Black and white ribbons joined the familiar rainbow colors Saturday in St. Charles for the region’s first Pride festival since 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub last Sunday in Orlando.
Speeches and prayers paid tribute to the victims, and a moment of silence lasted for minutes as a chime rang slowly in their memory.
Despite a ramped up police presence the mood overall remained celebratory, with two weddings and a full roster of entertainment.
“Amidst all of that sadness and concern, we also want to spotlight just having a special day when diversity is embraced and the community can come together and grieve together and mourn together and celebrate together all at the same time,” said Pride St. Charles organizer Jill Aul.
Aul said she and her co-chair Beth Finder never considered canceling after Orlando.
“Most of our committee attended the vigil that took place in The Grove last Sunday night and we knew immediately that more than ever the community needed a space to get together and just be,” Aul said.
For O’Fallon resident Richard Coleman, attending the festival was a way of supporting St. Charles Pride in its second year.
“We’ve lived in St. Charles County for about fifteen years and it’s exciting to see the county embracing the LGBT community,” said Coleman, who came to the festival with his partner Rob Novak. “Rob was a little scared to come, but we decided that we’re not going to let the terrorists or the haters win. And so we’re proud to be out here today, supporting the community and supporting St. Charles County.”
At an art station, Brianna Shields and Amarri Blair decorated hearts with messages of solidarity to send to the victims in Orlando.
“It’s heartbreaking. I feel like no one should have to go through that. I feel like everyone should be able to be themselves. And when they have festivals like this everyone is able to be who they want to be and not judged or looked at differently,” said Shields, who decorated her heart with rainbow colors and the word “love.”
“I think it’s nice to have a community where you feel like you’re welcome and that people are the same as you and that there’s not society exaggerating us as a whole and putting us in these categories,” said Blair. “We’re all just here and we’re in the moment.”
Blair’s message was a wish for “everyone to prosper.”
“They still have a cause that’s causing us to stand up more,” said Blair, who’s heading to college in the fall. “I’m waiting for society to really hop on board with us and just stop being different and be whole.”
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille