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After Years Of Unexpected Support In St. Charles, Pride Group Starts A Parade

The 2017 Pride St. Charles Festival took place for the first time in the city's Frontier Park, drawing 12,000 people.
Provided | Sandy Sharp
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The 2017 Pride St. Charles Festival took place for the first time in the city's Frontier Park, drawing 12,000 people.

The St. Charles Pride Festival has become so popular that five years after its launch, the organization behind it is adding a parade down historic Main Street.

When Pride St. Charles announced its first festival, the group expected pushback in the largely conservative area. Jason Dunn, a vice president, said the community instead welcomed the idea.

“When we started, we were honestly a little concerned,” Dunn said. “But the first question we got was, ‘What time is the parade?’”

For the 2015 festival, 3,500 people came out in heavy rain to to represent and support the LGBTQ community. The next year, attendance more than doubled. In 2018, the turnout reached 17,000.

“We’ve had such great support,” Dunn said. “And this year, it’s like, ‘This is what you've been asking for, and we're ready to be able to do that for you now.’”

‘It’s going to feel electrical’

Flagbearers and a few members of the Balloon Brigade marched through Frontier Park during the 2017 St. Charles Pride Festival but this year marks the first official parade.
Credit Provided | Sandy Sharp
/
Flagbearers and a few members of the Balloon Brigade marched through Frontier Park during the 2017 St. Charles Pride Festival. But this year marks the first official parade.

The theme of this year’s parade and festival held Saturday is “Reflections...Looking Back, Marching Forward.” Dunn, who grew up in Troy, Missouri, and moved to St. Charles 10 years ago, remembers when the idea of a Pride celebration in the area would have been unthinkable.

“So now let’s look back at where we've been, and let's celebrate how far we've come,” said Dunn, 39.

The parade includes the colorful brigade of balloon-covered dancers familiar to Pride St. Louis-goers, as well as students from two local high schools and the St. Charles Jaycees.

“It’s going to feel electrical, it’s going to feel magical, it’s going to feel validating,” he said. “It’s going to be amazing to say, ‘Hey, here we are.’”

The annual festival immediately follows the parade. Organizers have moved the gathering from Frontier Park to the parking lot of the Family Arena because of flooding. But nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of the expanding event, Dunn said.

"We’re giving our youth a little bit more resources out there and connecting them with other LGBTQ groups whenever they need help, or maybe they just need a friend,” Dunn said. “It's been amazing to actually see that change here.”

If you go:

St. Charles Pride Parade and Festival

When: 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday, parade. Noon-9 p.m., festival

Where: From Frenchtown area to Main Street, parade. Parking lot of Family Arena, festival.

How much: Free

Information: Pride St. Charles website

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

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Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.