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After a year of isolation, Westminster Pride Festival returns Saturday with music, art, food and support

When Jason Garber moved to Carroll County more than 10 years ago to attend McDaniel College, he experienced a bit of a cultural shock.

Garber, who is gay, grew up in Philadelphia, a city in which he felt welcomed to express himself. His new home in Carroll County felt more conservative, with less communities of color and openness.

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So when he was invited to join Westminster Pride Festival organizing committee, he felt compelled to say yes. Garber wanted the county to become more tolerant, like the place he grew up.

“I know Carroll County really needs an event like this and I know that the people in town want an event like this,” he said.

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The festival, set for Saturday, aims to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities and provide support. The event features 60 vendors, five food trucks and live music. Starting at noon and running until 6 p.m., it will be held on East Main Street, which will be closed from Church to Court streets.

This year, Westminster Pride Festival will announce their first scholarship for LGBTQ+ graduating seniors from Carroll County. Applicants will have until August 1 to apply.

When Garber and other organizers were planning the inaugural festival in 2018, they weren’t sure what to expect, he said. But even if only one person were to show up, that would be a victory on its own, he said.

Westminster Pride was meant to increase visibility for LGBTQ+ communities and to prove that the city is more open than people give it credit for, he said — to show that there are people in the county working toward positive changes for disenfranchised groups.

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On the day of the 2018 festival, he was blown away. About 3,000 people showed up, many wearing rainbow colors, various pride flags and swag.

Attendance only increased on the second year, in 2019. About 5,000 people went to the festival, which had more vendors to offer, too.

What would have been the third festival was canceled due to the pandemic, Garber said. The sudden cancellation left the organizers a bit lost, he said, after building so much momentum to the festival.

But it felt exciting to be able to pick up from where they left off about two months ago, once it felt clear that the state was headed toward having a majority of the population vaccinated. In Maryland, more than 75% of residents over 18 have received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19. In Carroll County, the vaccination rate for at least one dose is of 58.4%.

Still, Garber said they are expecting a slightly smaller turnout this year, most likely a crowd similar to their first festival. People are still getting used to going to in-person events, he said.

The festival will be one hour longer this year, with the extra time devoted to more bands.

“We know a lot of bands who we booked this year haven’t played in a year,” he said. “We want to give more opportunities for bands who haven’t been able to have live gigs in a while to have that in the festival.”

The music acts will include a DJ who has played for various pride events in addition to punk and alternative bands. There’s also a theater group that will perform.

The vendors include Penguin Random House — a Westminster Pride Festival’s sponsor, animal rescue organizations and tattoo companies. There also will be artists selling homemade pottery, jewelry and paintings, all pride related.

In addition, there will be information on safe sex from the Carroll County Health Department, and resources for parents and friends of LGBTQ+ folks and how to support them from PFLAG Westminster. A nonprofit that helps LGBTQ+ homeless youth and individuals also will be at the festival to offer information and assistance.

In the future, the organizers hope to have a parade. Their ultimate goal is to open a community center for LGBTQ+ people in the county.

But for now, Garber stresses the importance of festivals like Westminster Pride, with lots of rainbows, music and solidarity.

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