For the Fairhope chapter of Prism United, 2021 was the year that showed Fairhope was ready for a public celebration of LGBTQ pride. For 2022 the group is capitalizing on that lesson with a significantly bigger celebration.
Sarah Fischer, the site director for the Fairhope chapter, said her organization has been active for about two and a half years, but enjoys a tight relationship with, and support from, the older Mobile chapter. So going into June 2021, the chapter’s youth wasn’t the biggest source of uncertainty.
That was the pandemic. Planning a festival takes time. Months in advance, it wasn’t clear whether a festival would even be possible. When the forecast cleared, time was short. But not too short to do something.
“As the COVID numbers lifted .. we went before the city council last year and requested a special use permit to be able to throw a sidewalk-oriented event in the park down by the bay,” said Fischer. “The city was fantastic and very supportive.”
The event was a success, with Airbus and other sponsors providing support and the Alabama Contemporary Art Center donating “tons of chalk.” “It was wonderful,” said Fischer. “People colored just really amazing messages of love and pride an inclusivity and joy all over the sidewalk … we just had people sitting all over the park, having picnics and playing guitars. It was just a really nice couple of hours on a Saturday evening.”
“Last year was the first time that we know of that a public pride event has been held in Fairhope,” Fischer said.
With that event under its belt, the chapter had a bigger vision for 2022. This year’s Color Fairhope with Pride festival takes place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 18, in South Beach Park, by the public pier. This time around the organization has reserved the entire park for an expanded event including live music from Meredith Hicks and Emily Stuckey, a Pride Flag Fashion Showcase and a greatly expanded array of participating businesses and organizations.
It’s a development whose time has come, Fischer said. While the mood of the event is intended to be upbeat and joyous, there’s a serious purpose.
“From a Prism perspective, Fairhope has always been a place that has been accepting of all people, no matter what the dominant political and social forces around and outside of Fairhope have said was the status quo,” she said. “There is and always has been a ton of support for the LGBTQ community in Fairhope. But there are a lot of people who support the LGBTQ community but have continued to buy into an idea that it is a topic that has to remain whispered about. That it’s not something that can be spoken about out loud.
“None of these people are intentionally trying to communicate shame or fear, but it’s a habit,” she said. “It’s a habit born of politeness, not belief and value. That’s starting to change. The more people who are saying yes, I’m excited for my business to donate an item to your silent auction. I’m excited for my business to be one of the named sponsors listed on your banner.
“The more we speak out without whispering — you know, we don’t have to shout — we just have say, like, ‘Of course I support LGBTQ,’ ‘Of course the LGBTQ population has a place in this community,’ the more other people feel empowered to speak out,” Fischer said. “I think that there is a tendency to say, well, we support everyone equally, and everyone knows that we support them, and everyone already knows that they have access to the resources we have or the services we provide. But until the LGBTQ community so is not facing legislative attacks and questions about the validity of its very existence, that just isn’t the case. People don’t automatically know that they’re welcome, and they don’t automatically know that they do have equal access to the services they should have equal access to. So we’re just encouraging people to not just assume that their support is known, but to take one tiny step to being more visibly and vocally supportive.”
Partly because they wanted the event to feel representative of the community, organizers opted against booking a headline entertainer. Instead the day’s entertainment will peak with a Pride Flag Fashion Show. Participants can pick up a packet containing two pride flags and use them to make garments to be modeled by themselves or others during the show. (There aren’t many rules, Fischer said, but fashions should emphasize positive messages and be suitable for an all-ages audience.)
“Of course we still have the sidewalk chalk,” said Fischer. “We had some unbelievably amazing artistic work last year and we’re looking forward to that this year too.”
Aside from the festival, Fischer said the Fairhope chapter has other big plans on its plate. For one thing, it’ll be participating in a comprehensive needs assessment of the LGBTQ community in south Alabama. That process could take a couple of years, Fischer said.
For another, it’s preparing to launch a support group for families of LGBTQ youth on the Eastern Shore.
“A lot of the parents and family members and guardians of the LGBTQ youth in our community don’t have community themselves that they can turn to for questions, or from whom they can seek support,” she said. That group could become active by the end of July, she said.
The chapter also is planning monthly youth events and trying to develop a “safe place” program in conjunction with area businesses, she said.