JEFFERSON — Every June in the United States, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathers together for a celebration of love, diversity, acceptance and unashamed gay pride.

For the first time ever, the LGBTQ community came together in Ashtabula County for a Gay Pride Day, garnering a huge crowd Saturday afternoon at the Hamper Family Farm, Route 46 South. The event was sponsored by the LGBTQ Community Club of Ashtabula County.

Around 2,000 attendees were treated to drag shows, a talent show, live music, unicorn pony rides, face painting, a petting zoo, free HIV testing, COVID-19 vaccines and more.

“Welcome to the first Pride Day Ashtabula County,” said Bill Daywalt, who along with A.J. Petro, organized and kicked off the event. “Let’s hear you shout, ‘I’m gay and I’m proud.”

Cheers erupted from the crowd.

Daywalt said he and Petro, both of Kingsville, got a good start on organizing the event last year, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and it had to be put off to this year.

Petro said she was pleased with Saturday’s great turnout and sunny skies.

“It’s a perfect day,” she said.

June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning members of communities, made official in 2014 with a proclamation from former President Barack Obama. LGBTQ is an accepted initialism.

The Rev. John Werner, pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Jefferson, gave the opening prayer, thanking God for the his faithfulness and asking for everyone in attendance “to find the light of your love in our community.”

“We want to stop the hate in Ashtabula County,” he said. “All are welcome here.”

Thalia McNemar of Lorain and Kaleigh Smith of Ashtabula were one of several couples who posed for photos under a rainbow made of balloons.

“I always come out for Pride,” Smith said.

Kyle Brewer, of Warren, drove up with some friends to enjoy the day and “meet new friends,” he said. 

Pop tunes filled the air as fans welcomed drag queen Mona, of Ashtabula, who entertained with songs.

The audience took a sign, “Don’t be a drag, tip the queens,” to heart, generously tipping Mona and the other drag queens, who rely on the money to help them get through the pandemic, which closed clubs where most of them make their money.

“I loved watching them; it’s so much fun,” said Chanya Williams of Youngstown. “We have to celebrate.”

There were also raffles and give-aways, selfie stations, lemonade, slushies, crafts for children and more, courtesy of about 40 vendors.  

Aminah Griswold, 4, and TreyRon Loveday, 6, of Ashtabula, decorated face masks with rainbows at a craft booth. Other children played on the playground or enjoyed the animals at the petting zoo.

“Everyone is excited to be here. The turnout is just amazing,” Petro said. “It brings together the LGBTQ community and their friends ... we’re making history.”

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