Pridefest 2017 in downtown Springfield. (Photo: Ozarks Pridefest)

After two years of canceled events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ozarks Pridefest has plans to return this year. However, those who were anticipating the celebration to take place in June, widely recognized as Pride Month, will have to wait a little longer.

Pridefest on the Square will not take place until October 8, according to the Ozarks Pridefest’s Facebook page, similarly to previous years’ festivities. However, due to the importance of holding a summer celebration, Ozarks Pridefest is hosting Pride in the Park on July 9 from 12-4 p.m. at Phelps Grove Park, which will feature live music, games and food trucks.

Arianna Beckham, the co-president of the board for the Glo Center, a Springfield-based non-profit organization serving the LGBTQ+ community in the Ozarks, explained why the Pridefest Committee intentionally avoided having any major Pride events in June. 

“It was in June up until 2018 or 2019,” Beckham said. “One of the things was not competing with Juneteenth and since there were so many pride celebrations in Missouri, it would be hard to not have that weekend as an option. That’s a very important day, we don’t feel the need to overstep that.”

There were other reasons to move the event. Springfield is a “college town” and therefore a lot of students wouldn’t be around in June. Also, bumping the Springfield celebration avoids competing with other major Pridefest events in nearby metro areas, such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and Northwest Arkansas.

Attendees from Ozarks Pridefest 2017. (Photo: Ozarks Pridefest)

Beckham noted that while June was most well known for being Pride Month, the time of year celebrations take place can vary from city to city.

The Pridefest Committee, which is composed of representatives from the Glo Center, community members, and PFLAG-Springfield President of the Board Aaron Schekorra, coordinates the planning and execution of Pride events in Springfield, and assists smaller, surrounding communities put on their own festivities. 

PFLAG is a national organization that supports, advocates for, and provides educational and mental health resources to the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones. PFLAG’s Springfield chapter, while not formally involved in Pridefest, is providing assistance to the committee due to the enormity of the undertaking, as it hasn’t been held since 2019.

“I think we have just as much of an interest in seeing Pridefest happening as the Glo Center does,” Schekorra said. “It’s an event that’s sort of stood on its own separate from any one organization, although it’s financially sponsored, Glo Center holds the money and coordinates the planning of stuff.”

Beckham said that while the Glo Center handles the funds to put the events on, it is for restricted Pridefest usage only, and not used for any other program.

Shared sense of community, public display of Pride important for LGBTQ+ community

Both Beckham and Schekorra noted how important Pridefest is this year, as the isolation brought on by the pandemic was harmful to the LGBTQ+ community.

“That can definitely be said for other demographics,” Schekorra said. “But with the queer community, I think that we really lost a lot of that in-person connection and for a lot of people that meant losing a lot of their social connections and losing a lot of their support.

“There’s not been as many opportunities to engage other than some online things, but we were not seeing the demand for those because it is kind of hard to have that meaningful engagement through a virtual platform,” Schekorra continued. “That’s had some very real and genuine impacts on the community in terms of mental and emotional health and in terms of support and so we’re really excited to get back to those in-person events.”

This challenge to the LGBTQ+ community over the past couple of years is perhaps even more amplified, according to Beckham, by the notions held by others who live in the area. 

“[We’re] in the Bible Belt,” Beckham said. “We have a lot of hateful rhetoric from various organizations and it’s not a safe community for queer people to live, as much as anyone wants to say it is. We just had attacks on queer people last summer, downtown. It’s not a safe place for queer people to live yet.”

Despite this, Beckham hasn’t given up on Springfield.

“Even though this town doesn’t love us, we love this town and we want to build the community we want to see,” Beckham said. “Where everyone, regardless of their identity, is safe here. It’s really important to me. It’s really important for us to stay here and make it a safe community.”

Details for Pridefest are limited to it being held on Park Central Square on October 8, but more will become available and can be found here as the date approaches. In addition to Pride in the Park, Ozarks Pridefest is hosting several other events that can be found on their Facebook page between now and October.