The Pride of Southern Maryland rally and march had a watershed moment Saturday.
The event, in its third year at Calvert Marine Museum, more than doubled its attendance from last year. In its initial year, the event drew over 60 people. Last year, it doubled that with over 120 attendees.
This year, the attendance was estimated at well more than 300 in attendance.
“For sure, yes” he was happy with the attendance, Nat Turner, a member of the event’s planning committee, said. “We made 200 welcome bags [and they were gone]. We have been planning since January. Last year’s Pride we planned in a month. This year has been a lot more work. We have three committees now, the march, the rally, and communications. We will be thinking about” the attendance.
The weather cooperated, leaving the storms of the past week behind and providing plenty of sun and cooler temperatures.
Numerous information tents populated the grounds of Corbin Pavilion as people from around the tri-county area gathered to hear the speaker at the rally before marching the length of Solomons Island Road south and back.
One thing that was missing was corporate sponsorship for the event. It was not a random decision.
“We didn’t do any corporate sponsors,” Turner said. “We decided that we wanted to make this a community event. It is very important to us that it is that: a community event.”
The rally featured a cross-section of the community.
“We wanted to make this an intergenerational celebration and Southern Maryland is diverse, we wanted to reflect that,” Turner said. “We have a lot of people on our committees from the church, which is very important to us for representing the community that we are. It is not that they were chosen because we needed their representation; they are very involved.”
The rally kicked off with clergy members and the ceremonial sounding of the bowl.
“My name is James Gibbons Walker. My pronouns are he and him. I’m joined on stage by Elaine McVinney from the Sha’are Shalom congregation in Waldorf and Dottie Younger of Solomons United Methodist Church. And by a number of clergies who have chosen to join us from all over Southern Maryland and, even, Northern Virginia,” the chaplain of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship said.
The speakers spanned the gamut in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Demonstrations at the Stonewall Hotel in Greenwich Village in New York City in the summer of 1969 marked the turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States.
Pat Pease, Joan Madewell, and Danny Marlay-Miller told of their struggles and victories in their LGBTQ stories.
But it was Kerian Bheemaswarrop, of Our Common Calvert, that provided the emotional heft of the rally.
“Growing up in the time I did, I had access to a lot of privileges that other queer youth didn’t have,” Bheemaswarrop said. “I had access to the internet. I discovered I was trans at 11. I, later, came out to my family when I was 13. When I did that, I had the privilege of not fearing getting kicked out of my house. Thinking about this and all the privileges that I’ve had, it begs the question, why is it that some many LGBTQ youths consider it a privilege to not get kicked out at 13? Why do so many trans people consider it a privilege to not fear for their lives every time they leave their house.”
While Bheemaswarrop detailed his struggles, he made a point that the easiest thing was what some may view as the most difficult.
“When I came out to myself, it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. All I was doing was making a choice to live my life in a way that didn’t hurt anymore,” he said. “Everyone deserves the right to make that choice. Everyone deserves the right to live their lives in the way that they want to. Everyone deserves the right to feel comfortable when they leave their house and not fear being assaulted or being harassed just for being themselves.”
Bheemaswarrop then began the drumbeat toward the march that would feature over 300 strong down one side of Solomons Island Road to the point and back up to Corbin Pavilion.
“Today, I’m marching for that right. I’m marching today so that everyone that comes after me doesn’t have to think that a story like mine is a privilege,” he said, choking up. “We have had victories in these past 50 years since Stonewall. We can not let those victories make us complacent in our fight. If we don’t fight for us if we don’t fight for ourselves and our beautiful colorful community, who will? It is now more than ever that we need to because we are so close. We have made so many jumps forward. We can’t let our struggles make us hopeless, and we can’t let our anger stop us. We have to use that energy towards making a difference … toward making things right.”
With those words, the rally wrapped, and the march began.
Even before the event was over, Turner was already in the planning stages for next year’s Pride rally and march.
“We want to have a website up for next year, that is one thing,” she said. “We set goals for each year, goals that help with size and growing. We will look at the numbers for this year and plan from there”