When Yvonne Matthews talks to people about the first pride event in Harford County, the interest and excitement is palpable, she said.
The Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride Festival will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22, in the area around Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace.
“The festival is a different way to interface with the community. It really is another way to show people in general that being different is OK, it’s not bad,” said Matthews, a member of PFLAG Bel Air. “Just because you don’t understand something or don’t agree with something doesn’t make that something wrong.”
Harford County, a very conservative county, Matthews said, has a large LGBTQ community.
“The festival is a way for that community to come together and celebrate their community and share it with their allies and friends,” Matthews, the mother of a transgender son, said.
She has heard several estimates on how many people will attend the first Pride festival in Harford, but said the latest was about 3,000 people.
More than 50 vendors are expected at the festival, which Havre de Grace band The Hushdown will open and close. Singer Jake Dugger will also perform onstage.
There will be three drag queen performances, which will be family-friendly, Matthews said. Each queen, including one from Havre de Grace, will perform one song, then be back periodically throughout the festival.
Festival guests can participate in the Perfect Pride Pet Contest, with awards for the best pride-influenced costume for the pet and the best drag costume for the pet.
Gabe’s Tattoos will provide face-painting, a selfie booth will be set up, and various arts and crafts will be available for children and adults.
A parade along the promenade is scheduled for 5 p.m.
“A pride parade is really a chance for the LGBTQ community to march in support of the community and show their pride and show their relevance,” Matthews said. “We have been fighting a long time to be recognized and not vilified against. It’s our way of honoring our current community and the community of the past who may no longer be with us.”
As a member of PFLAG, Matthews often hears members say they want to met other people like them.
“This is a way to do that,” she said.
Drag queen controversy
The drag queens will also host two storytimes, reading aloud books about diversity and acceptance. The books, read under a tree in the park, will be posted online ahead of time.
“There are all different kinds of families, all different kinds of ways young children feel,” Matthews said. “There is no need to worry we’re going to try to indoctrinate their kids.”
Drag queens are misunderstood by many people, she said, with a lot of misconceptions about what a drag queen is and what they stand for.
Many people think there is a sexual connotation to drag queens and they’re uncomfortable with that, and worry they will negatively influence their children.
“Really, it is an adult who presents in female costumes, in a family friendly way and will sit down and read a children’s story that is diversity acceptance based, not sexually based,” Matthews said.
Drag has come under scrutiny lately, especially by the Harford County Liquor Control Board, which was criticized for forcing Harford bars and restaurants to cancel their drag events.
The board said no one was told to cancel the events, rather the board inspector reminded the liquor licensees of the rules regarding sexual displays and nudity and left the decision up to the licensees. Most canceled their shows for fear of losing their license.
“My goal is to sort of shed light, especially in the county recently with the negative connotation by the liquor board, that drag has come a long way,” Matthews said. “It’s fun, exciting and can be bawdy in a close venue, but it doesn’t have to be. They are people who like to perform and are comfortable in that type of performance. They’re not trying to change you, it’s just an artistic form.”
Earlier this week, the liquor board and the Maryland LGBT Chamber of Commerce issued a joint statement in response to a public outcry that the liquor board forced the cancellation of drag events. Tom Koerber, president of the state’s LGBT chamber, said he believed the matter was resolved and looked forward to drag events returning to Harford County.
‘The free city’
Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin said he couldn’t be prouder the city will be hosting Harford’s first pride festival.
He met with DeLane Lewis, a member of Together We Will, earlier this year about possibly holding the event in Havre de Grace. They had been difficulty finding a venue, Martin said.
“I told her ‘you’re in luck,’ because Havre de Grace is ‘The Free City,’” Martin said. “We embrace everybody, we embrace inclusion, we embrace diversity and we’re very proud to host the first pride festival.”
The festival is emblematic of Havre de Grace, which he called an anomaly not only in Maryland but in the country.
“I can’t think of a town with greater diversity in its citizenry,” Martin said.
He offered the organizers whatever help they need.
“We treat all our events that way,” said Martin, who plans to attend the festival. “We just want people to know that we want people to feel welcomed in our city and what them to know Havre de Grace is The Free City.”