Last updated: August 11. 2014 12:32AM - 2788 Views
By James O’Malley jomalley@civitasmedia.com

Decked out in rainbow-colored wings, Tait Gehman, of Emmaus, dances outside the pavilion at Kirby Park during Sunday's PrideFest.
Decked out in rainbow-colored wings, Tait Gehman, of Emmaus, dances outside the pavilion at Kirby Park during Sunday's PrideFest.
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A rainbow flag hung high in Kirby Park’s Martz Pavilion Sunday, a clear indicator that NEPA PrideFest had taken over for the afternoon.

The annual festival, organized by the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, marked the last day of Pride Week, a multi-day celebration of the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and their straight supporters and allies throughout the region.

Organizers expected a turnout of around 2,000 people for the event’s seventh year.

Carl Halkyer, co-chair of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance said early in the day that the event was turning out to be “an amazing success.”

“And it’s a beautiful day,” he said. “What more can you ask for?”

Vendors and organizations set up shop in the park, including a wedding tent — a new addition to the event following the decision by a federal judge in May to strike down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. The tent featured representatives from area businesses friendly to same-sex couples.

Turner Stulting and Deirdre Sullivan said they were also making their first appearance at the event. They represented the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, a statewide coalition of LGBTQ student organizations.

PSEC looks to raise awareness of community issues in schools and communities throughout the state, and has been a driving force behind the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, they said. PASS, as the act is known, would attempt to expand protections for bullied students.

Stulting and Sullivan said their organization also looks to educate schools on tactful and supportive handling of transgender students in transition and spreads word about gender pronoun preferences. Both Stulting and Sullivan said they prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns to describe themselves.

“I don’t really see myself as a girl or a guy,” Sullivan said. “I just see myself as me.”

A few tents away, TransNEPA — a subgroup of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance — was educating festival-goers on the myriad issues affecting the transgender community, as well as some common terminology.

Volunteers invited people to test their trans knowledge, spin the “Wheel of Trans 101,” and answer a question based on the topic where it landed.

Corey, one of the volunteers and a transgender man, helped guide people through the complexities. He said tact is the key to a successful approach.

“When people say ‘Oh, I never would have guessed,’” he said, “that’s invalidating.”

He also offered a list of resources for partners of trans people.

Transitioning doesn’t just affect trans people, Corey said, but also the people around them, and he believes significant others are somewhat underserved and undersupported.

He said his coming out complicated a past relationship when a former significant other, who identified as a lesbian, asked, “‘so does this make me straight now?’”

“The answer to that is actually no,” Corey said. But he added, “it gets very muddy very quick.”

Halkyer said he thinks trans awareness will be the next big issue of the LGBT equality movement. Equality for the community is inevitable, he said, but perhaps most of all people just want acceptance and understanding.

Of course the community also wants the legal rights that come with social equality, Halkyer said.

“And I think acceptance and understanding covers it all,” he said.

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