County Pride event celebrates LGBTQ communityJune 29, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — Growing up, Jackelin Padilla-Silva was always told to be proud to be a woman and to be Latina. She was never told to be proud to be gay.
Growing up in Jasper, she faced some criticism for being non-white but her family supported her and told her to be proud of her heritage. Navigating her sexuality was different, though.
“Everyone has a different coming out experience,” Padilla-Silva, 18, said. Some people have support and that’s great, but other people like me just don’t have that.”
Since then, that pride has come from within herself. She’s confident in who she is and won’t let anyone tell her how to live. But standing at Jaycee Park Friday evening, looking out at the crowd of people there to support and celebrate the LGBTQ community, it felt like a breath of fresh air for her.
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Dubois County’s second ever Pride event brought hundreds of attendees from across the county and surrounding counties. Hosted by advocacy group ONE-Dubois County, the night was filled with music, games, food trucks, a movie night and swimming at the Jasper Municipal Pool.
Jack Greener, of Jasper, organized a booth where visitors could paint a community mural. The mural, which started out as a black canvas but would be filled with different colored hearts throughout the night, displayed the words “Love is the answer” in the center.
The finished mural will be hung at Brew in Jasper and will likely travel to other locations afterward, Greener said.
“There’s not a lot of LGBTQ representation around Jasper, even during pride month,” Greener said. “So we wanted to make something to have year-round. Wherever it ultimately ends up, if it helps even one person feel seen, validated, heard, whatever, that’s what I’m doing it for.”
Landen Weidenbenner and Brandon Ferguson, who have lived together in Huntingburg for more than three years now, said that although there is not a lot of LGBTQ representation in the county, there has always been support for them.
Both of their experiences with coming out were relatively easy because their families supported them and their relationship, Weidenbenner said. Still, they spent a lot of time worrying how the community would see them.
“Both of us used to get so hung up on what other people would think, are we being stared at, stuff like that,” he said. “You just spend all this energy on worrying, and eventually you’re like, “Wait, why am I doing this?’”
Weidenbenner and Ferguson displayed their Pride flag outside their home for the first time this year. Walking around Friday’s event, they realized there were probably more than double the amount of attendees from the first Pride event in 2019.
“It’s so nice to see the community here like this, just to see the diversity of people here,” Weidenbenner said. “Even in Dubois County in general, it’s getting better. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better.”
Mary Warner said she felt a little emotional seeing how big Friday’s turnout was.
“I’m not shocked that this is happening,” she said, “but I’m proud that it is.”
Warner moved to Jasper 26 years ago after college, where she met Kim, the woman who would one day become her wife. They’ve been together ever since, and now they have 13-year-old and 9-year-old daughters.
Originally, they didn’t plan to stay in Jasper.
“We always said we’re not staying here, we’re not going to raise our family here,” Warner said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t feel accepted or anything like that, it was more about wanting our children to see more diversity … But I feel like it’s our purpose to be here. I don’t want people to feel like they have to go away.”
Their family will always have to live with the assumptions people make about them, ones they might not have had to deal with if they had moved somewhere else. But if it means they can spark conversation and educate those around them, then it’s worth it.
“When our kids went to school, we were like, ‘Okay, here’s our story, we are two moms.’ Even when we go to dinner, it’s like, ‘Two checks or one?’ And it’s like, ‘No, we’re a family, just one,’” Warner said. “But I want our family to be the example, to be the ones that people can come to and ask questions.”
Padilla-Silva also wants to use her experience to spark conversation with people who want to learn more about the LGBTQ community. Not everyone will see eye to eye, she said, but those conversations, even if they are uncomfortable, are necessary in order to grow.
“Whether you can agree or can’t agree, as long as you can have a conversation and be civil about it, at the end of the day we’re going to get better insight than what we had before,” she said. “This event is amazing, but we can’t stop here.”
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