Full Spectrum Parades through Warren | News, Sports, Jobs

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Pride Parade participants toss candy from a float that travels along Mahoning Avenue NW Saturday afternoon in Warren Courthouse Square. Full Spectrum Pride in the Valley was partly about visibility, attracting many people dressed in bright colors who were talking, laughing and complimenting each other. Staff photo / R. Michael Semple

WARREN – Of all the festivals held annually in Courthouse Square, Full Spectrum Pride in the Valley is undoubtedly the most colorful.

Crowds of people Saturday with rainbow shirts and multicolored hair, wearing arrays of Pride flags as capes, moved through the rows of bright tents – talking, laughing and complimenting each other.

It was exactly the kind of lively stage one would expect from an event focused on being seen.

“This event is all about visibility,” said Daniel Tirabassi, vice president of Full Spectrum Community Outreach, a Youngstown-based LGBTQ+ resource center.

Tirabassi said the LGBTQ+ community in the Mahoning Valley doesn’t have the same level of visibility as in other areas of a similar size.

LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and “plus” – anyone within the community.

“We’re not technically celebrating,” Tirabassi said. “The first Pride was actually a riot.” The 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York, which inspired modern Pride festivals, began with the gay community protesting a police raid.

Tirabassi said the local LGBTQ+ community is larger than most people realize and is made up of neighbors, friends and family.

“You can’t tell who someone is by looking at them,” Tirabassi said.

GROWING PRIDE

Saturday marked Warren’s fourth pride, although the 2020 event was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tirabassi said he noticed an increase in attendance since last year when the pandemic was still looming. This year’s event drew people of all ages, including a slew of tweens and teens who said they were excited to embrace who they are.

“A lot of people here are really nice. All the outfits are so beautiful,” 11-year-old Rilee “Toru” Nunemaker said.

Rilee, who wore a pink and orange striped lesbian flag on her shoulders, attended Pride with Macie Ifft, 10, from Warren, along with her mother, Nicole Nunemaker, her sister, Jazmyn, 9, and friends from the family, Nora, 7, and Brandi Besednjak.

She said she was lucky to be able to spend the day with her girlfriend – and her family was supportive.

Nicole Nunemaker and Brandi Besednjak also said they enjoyed the event and agreed they couldn’t imagine something like Pride happening in the square 10 or 15 years ago.

“Even to have a community like this, you would have to go to a bar,” Besednjak said. That wouldn’t be an option for an 11-year-old, she said.

Taylor Smelko of Cortland, a trans lesbian attending Pride for the first time this year, said the thought of being absent 15 years ago would have been “scary”.

“I’m happy that we’re moving in the direction we’re in,” Smelko said.

Smelko said she didn’t know what to expect coming to Pride, but she had fun and returned to the event a second time that afternoon with her daughter.

“We need more of that,” Smelko said.

FREE HUGS

The fun of the day was briefly interrupted when a man with a megaphone came on stage and shouted at the Rust Belt Theater Company Kids Show drag performers at around 4:10 p.m., minutes into the show. The man felt the program disagreed with his religious views, Tirabassi said.

It was the first time the Warren’s Pride event had been disrupted in this way. Tirabassi said the incident was dealt with in about five minutes and police escorted the man away.

“It didn’t change the mood. They started having fun again,” Tirabassi said.

One part of Pride that could weather any storm was the wide availability of “free hugs from mom.”

“I’m not normally a hugger,” said Heather Anderson from Poland, a volunteer mom for Free Mom Hugs, a national organization focused on education and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Anderson’s sister, Allison Bugzavich, who also gave mom free hugs, said sometimes members of the LGBTQ+ community aren’t accepted by the people who should love them the most.

The couple said they snuggled a lot on Friday.

“You can’t put words to some of the reactions,” Bugzavich said. “Something so simple can make someone’s day.”

Free Mom Hugs was founded in 2015 by Sara Cunningham, a Christian mother of a gay son in conservative Oklahoma, who wanted to spread the love to the LGBTQ+ community, parents and allies.

Erica Putro de Warren, head of the state chapter of Free Mom Hugs, said her advice to parents of kids who are in the LGBTQ+ community is to listen.

“A lot of times what our children need is for you to accept them, love them and listen to them,” Putro said. “A reliable person they can rely on – that’s the best start.”



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