OSWEGO — Gender parity advocates and LGBTQ community allies in the city of Oswego are set to hold the annual Oswego Pride Fest Sept. 14 and while they acknowledge change and improvement in equality through state legislation, safety concerns still linger.
The event, scheduled to take place at West Linear Park and organized by local LGBTQ community group Oswego Pride, has become almost synonymous with the annual pride parade celebrating diversity in the Port City.
Oswego Pride President Gary Nunez-Smith said hosting Pride Fest is important to highlight an open conversation about equality and underscore the “visibility” of the LGBTQ community in Oswego.
“If we did not have an event like this, I think it would affect our community,” Nunez-Smith said. “We would not be as visible. I don’t think that people would be as educated about our community without it.”
The festival is set to include drag shows, live music, food vendors and information booths from local organizations seeking inclusiveness for members of the LGBTQ community, including Accept Oswego and Liberty Resources.
“It's a super important event because not only does it bring awareness of the diversity in our community, but it's a time for LGBTQ folks to come together and celebrate that diversity,” said Alexander DeSacia, a co-founder of local advocacy group Accept Oswego, which will have a presence at this year’s Pride Fest. “Sometimes it's easy to forget that there are people like you in a small community like Oswego. It's a good, refreshing feeling to be surrounded by people who understand.”
Accept Oswego is a growing local organization that leaders say is focused on providing safe spaces for members of the community and will also be launching a new “Inclusive Space Initiative” (ISI) at the festival. The program invites businesses, medical facilities and government buildings to display a poster that marks them as an ally to the LGTBQ community and “other marginalized groups.”
“The idea for the initiative came to be because of complaints I heard from members of the Oswego Community,” DeSacia said. “People felt as if they weren't welcome in certain places, or that they were being treated differently because of their appearance, gender and sexual orientation.”
DeSacia added he also received complaints of street harassment in the city of Oswego.
“At this point, it's crucial that we make people feel safe and welcome in Oswego,” he said. “An establishment having an ISI poster just means that everyone is included and no one will be discriminated against, for any reason.”
This year, organizers and advocates said the current political climate has led to safety concerns and potentially the cancellation of the parade altogether.
A “Straight Pride Parade,” organized in Boston over the weekend, is one of the concerns local advocates highlight as a “hateful event” toward the LGBTQ community.
“I think (the Boston parade) is very telling of the times we are in,” said DeSacia. “Honestly, I would describe it as ‘anti-pride parade’ because there was no celebration.”
Reflecting on the current state of protections granted to members of the LGBTQ community, DeSacia said state lawmakers have shown support in this last state legislature term with the passage of bills that outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender expression and better protections for victims of sexual abuse.
“All of these new bills being passed is an absolute win, for sure,” he said. “It's nice to see the people in power doing the right things. But could more be done? Always.”
DeSacia pointed to transgender populations and people of color as a key segment of the community elected officials could focus on.
According to a report from the Human Rights Campaigns Foundation (HRC) and the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) there were 29 cases of fatal violence against transgender people nationwide reported to the police in 2017. Four of those cases took place in the state of New York.
The same report suggests that out of the 102 cases reported from 2013 to 2017, 75 of them were against African American and 10 of them against hispanics.
“What we really need is federal change, not just at the state level,” he added.
For more information, visit Oswego Pride Fest on Facebook.