Now in its fourth year, Gettysburg Pride celebrates the resilience, pride, and self-acceptance within the LGTBQ+ community
By Tessa Walter
“We just thought it was going to be a bar crawl!” Chad-Alan Carr, executive director of Gettysburg Community Theatre and founder of Gettysburg Pride, says with a laugh as he reminisces on the early days of planning Pride. It was May 2017, and nearby cities such as Harrisburg and Frederick, Md., were hosting Pride events celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) social and self-acceptance. Carr, along with Corey Williams, a chef at Food 101, thought why not bring Pride to Gettysburg?
The friends chose a random Thursday evening and created a Facebook event encouraging the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to attend. “We assumed we would probably have two dozen gay and straight friends attend with us,” Carr remembers. However, the Facebook event spread like wildfire, and Gettysburg’s first Pride event had more than 80 people in attendance.
“The next year we planned it to be a whole weekend of activities. A cabaret piano bar performance, free rapid HIV testing and counseling, and wine, dine, and shopping tours were added. It gained momentum, and we had about 200 attend for the weekend,” says Carr.
He reflects on Gettysburg Pride’s growing success. “Last year, we continued to get more support from the downtown businesses around Lincoln Square,” he says. “Each of them created their own special events to connect with Pride and be part of the fun, including artwork that created a walk-through exhibit of the Americans that paved the way for the LGBTQ+ movement and where Pride itself came from originally, Stonewall in NYC. This and more education and awareness became part of Gettysburg Pride. We also added a drag show to the cabaret at Gettysburg Community Theatre, a family picnic at Battlefield Bed and Breakfast, as well as our first peace march on the sidewalks of downtown. We stopped counting at 400. It was simply incredible and full of positive energy and love.”
The historic town is an ideal location to host a Pride event. “Gettysburg is a symbol of freedom and diversity,” says Williams. “Pride is a direct reflection of that.” And he notes the importance of celebrating the LGBTQ+ community in small towns if for nothing more than to show young people growing up that they are accepted. “Pride shows our community that everyone is loved and welcomed. It shows our young people that, whoever they may be, they are a celebrated part of our town,” he says.
Commissioner Marty Qually echoes the importance of celebrating Gettysburg Pride. “My wife and I are proud to live in a community that embraces and respects all residents,” says Qually. “Each of us is born with the inalienable right to choose who we are and who we love. It’s really that simple. Love is love.”
One of the most talked-about events after Gettysburg Pride in 2019 was the “Free Mom and Dad Hugs” table, an idea from Gettysburg resident Sarah Pearce. After seeing participants at Pride events around the globe on Facebook participating in free mom and dad hugs, Pearce wanted to bring this feel-good idea to Gettysburg.
A national nonprofit, Free Mom Hugs is a group of affirming parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and offer hugs to those who may not have felt supported or accepted by their parents because of how they identify.
“We had more than just moms—there were dads, friends, and many of us brought our kids along, too,” Pearce says. “When the participants of the march got to our hugging area, there were laughs, thanks yous, and tears. There was a mom of a teenage girl who tearfully thanked us for being there. Some young people silently took hugs with the most grateful look in their eyes. As wonderful as it was to give the hugs, it was equally rewarding to get the hugs back.”
A first-time Pride participant and a longtime resident of Adams County, Chrisanne Bowden shares her eye-opening experience. “I was surprised that a town the size of Gettysburg could host something like Pride,” Bowden says, as she reflects on walking to the square with her mentee. A volunteer with Project Hope, a mentoring program for teenagers in foster care in Adams County, Bowden felt it important to be a role model of love and acceptance for younger generations.
Both Bowden and her mentee consider themselves advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and were thrilled to meet so many fellow allies, especially those participating in Free Mom and Dad Hugs.
“We far outnumbered those protesting, which was heartwarming and gave me, personally, so much hope, “ she says. “As the marchers approached, the air was filled with pure joy and love. Smiles and tears were everywhere.” Bowden and her mentee left the 2019 march hoping that even more community members attend this year. “We are all born exactly as we are supposed to be,” Bowden affirms.
First-timer to the event? “Expect to see smiles, friendship, and love,” says Carr. “Expect to be a part of a community that accepts and welcomes everyone who respects them in return. Visit, attend performances, become more educated and aware of LGBTQ+ people and their struggles, learn the history of Pride, march together to celebrate diversity and inclusion. All this and more is at Gettysburg Pride every year.”
Everyone is invited to Pride, which takes place May 29-31. “Gettysburg Pride is family-friendly,” says Carr. “We encourage you to be comfortable in your own skin [and]be comfortable in your own neighborhood. You are loved here. You are welcome here. Be proud of who you are!”
Community Support for Pride
Many local businesses support Gettysburg Pride, including Lark Gifts, Nerd Herd, The Christmas Haus, Gettysburg Hotel One Lincoln, Gallery 30, and Upper Crust. Family First Health is a great resource and care center for the LGBTQ+ community in Adams County.
HACC Gettysburg, Gettysburg College, and Gettysburg High School all have gay/straight alliance clubs or similar organizations with which students or members of the community can connect.
If you are interested in becoming more involved with Gettysburg Pride or the LGBTQ+ community in Gettysburg, Carr encourages you to ask more local businesses for their support.
You can find additional resources on Facebook, including Gettysburg Pride, Free Mom Hugs–South Central Pennsylvania, and HACC Gettysburg–SAFE.
Visit www.gettysburgpride.org for more information.
We’re Here is here
The HBO docu-series, filmed in Gettysburg last year, features Shangela, Eureka, and Bob the Drag Queen as they recruit small-town residents across America to participate in a one-night-only drag show. Visit www.hbo.com/were-here to check it out.