When Zakary Finder of Lake St. Louis was in middle school, other students taunted him for three whole years for being "different."
“They would say, like, ‘Hey, faggot,’ ‘What’s up, homo?’” he said. “Or, ‘Get out of here, homo, nobody wants you.’”
Finder dreaded high school, fearing it might be worse. But his high-school peers turned out to be more accepting. During his freshman year, six years ago, he told his parents he was gay. His mom, Beth Finder, had concerns but embraced her son for who he was. Eventually, she and her husband joined the St. Charles chapter of PFLAG, a group for parents of LGBT kids.
Last summer, Beth Finder and PFLAG St. Charles founder Jill Aul hatched the idea for St. Charles Pride while working at the PFLAG booth at PrideFest St. Louis.
“I said, ‘I think it’s time,’” Finder said. “And she got fireworks in her eyes and I did too, and that’s really where the whole idea was born.”
The inaugural St. Charles Pride takes place from noon until 6 p.m. at St. Charles Community College, 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Dr., in Cottleville.
Event ‘planned by straight people’
St. Charles Pride will include an opening ceremony, vendor booths, food trucks and a group of colorful St. Louis performers known as the Balloon Brigade. The Brigade is known for stealing the show in the St. Louis Pride Parade.
Beth Finder speculates that people within the local LGBT community didn’t launch a Pride event, themselves, because the area is known for being conservative.
“One has to wonder, ‘Is it because they were afraid of the backlash, that there really aren’t that many people who are accepting, other than those within their own social network that they have?’” Finder said.
Finder says St. Charles County actually has many LGBT supporters. She expects this event will bring them — as well as the area’s LGBT people — out to celebrate together, “So that everyone in the community knows that there are loving, accepting people and there are other people just like you within the community,” she said.
Event co-founder Jill Aul has learned a lot about the level of support from her community, as her child first came out as lesbian and later transitioned to male. Aul was encouraged when 35 people showed up for the first planning event. Some were LGBT, but most were members of PFLAG and other allies, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens.
“In essence, this event was planned by straight people,” Aul said.
More people found out about it, mostly through social media. Now many LGBT people are also involved, and more than 100 vendors are signed up.
Having a St. Charles County event makes it more convenient for LGBT people and allies to gather. But there’s more at stake. Especially for those who live in nearby rural areas, who may have no connection to resources and support.
“People who live more north and west of St. Charles, people who live in Lincoln County and Warren County and places like that, who may not be able to get downtown,” Aul said. “We’re hoping it will really be helpful to them.”
St. Charles County Pride
Where: St. Charles Community College, 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Dr., 63376, in Cottleville
When: Noon-6 p.m., Saturday, May 30
How much: Free
Information: St. Charles County Pride Facebook page
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL