When Prairie Fox Books Special Events Manager Dylan Conmy moved from Chicago to Ottawa, Illinois, in 2012, he began to miss having the city's Pride festivities nearby. Now, Conmy is making his dream a reality with Ottawa's first-ever Pride Fest taking place Saturday, June 11, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., in the city's historic downtown area.
"This area has never had a Pride celebration, and last year a 12-year-old young man marched with his family down the main street in downtown Ottawa during Pride Month," said Conmy. "We marched behind him, as he had come out to his family as trans. As a trans man who waited until I was in my 30s to come out, this young man had more bravery than I ever had.
"I knew that in this small-town area, Youth Outlooka place for LGBTQ youth ages 12-20 that I wish had been available to me in the Northwest suburbs when I grew upand a visible Pride were going to be essential for his mental health. So, I used his bravery as my fuel to approach city leaders and request the downtown area for a Pride Fest. That young man is the reason this is all happening."
Conmy said he met that young trans man when he invited the community to decorate one of Prairie Fox Books storefront display windows during Pride month. He added that his mission for the bookstore is to promote diversity with their book selections and programs.
"Since our inaugural Pride celebration is focused on fundraising, I really wanted to find a way to bring something big to the table in terms of a showstopper," said Conmy. "[RuPaul's Drag Race alumna and HBO Max We're Here host] Eureka O'Hara happens to be one of my personal favorites. With the generous support of local and regional sponsors and donations, we were able to snag her up for this very special occasion as our drag show emcee. She is going to contribute some of her trademark wit and humor and then help us raise funds for Youth Outlook during the ticketed meet and greet at the bookstore where she will sign autographs and take photos."
Conmy said the Pride Fest will have easy to locate information booths, wheelchair accessible restrooms, both print and digital maps in English and Spanish, ASL interpreters alongside the speakers and performers among other provisions. His goal is to make the event enjoyable for every attendee.
Kicking off the festivities will be the Paws for Pride Pet Parade where all pets are welcome to compete. The pets will parade around the perimeter of Washington Square Park (home of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate) on a leash, pet stroller or enclosed cage/tank on a wagon with a judge's panel awarding prizes in a variety of categories. Although entry into the parade is free, participants are encouraged to make a donation. All funds collected for this specific event will go to the area shelter, Pet Project in Marseilles.
Throughout the rest of the day musicians Katie Belle & the Belle Rangers, Cheryl Rodey and the area Pride Choir will be performing. Rockin' with Leonardo Show and The Stu Show (Be Kind, Be Positive and Read) will also be on hand to entertain the children attendees.
Pride craft creations for the children, a potential Chalk the Walk sidewalk art activity and a large-scale community art project will also take place.
Vendors will include artisan making Pride swag, home décor, pipes and blown glass, Discovery Toys, Mary Kay and Color Street consultants, leather goods, custom screen-print tees and tumblers, bath and body items among others.
Attendees will be able to nosh on food from Bertha Food Truck, Lodi Tap House in Utica, Ferguson Concessions, Esther's Tacos, Keely's Castle and Perfect Moments Event Shoppe. Local restaurants like The Lone Buffalo/Tangled Roots Brewery and CatsEye Wine Bar will be creating menu items or deals for the day with Tangled Roots developing a Pride Fest brew for the event made from their local hops.
"We are proud to be an ally and express support for the Ottawa Pride Fest in June for our friends, patrons, coworkers and neighbors," said CatsEye Wine Bar co-owner Francie Skoflanc. "We are an all-inclusive bar where everyone is made to feel welcome. We host a broad variety of events and entertainment at our wine bar including drag night and drag bingo. We are so pleased that the community has embraced these shows and this upcoming event. It is an opportunity to celebrate and learn."
According to Conmy, the mayor, chief of police and other city officials have been very supportive of the event. The Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce is a main collaborator and the Ottawa Visitor's Center has been pivotal in making sure that this event will be successful.
"The Chamber is very excited to be a part of the inaugural Ottawa Pride Fest," said Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Hettrick. "It will be a family-friendly day of celebration and education."
Among the numerous non-profits that will have booths are Equality Illinois, PFLAG, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Warriors for the Children, Valley Immigrant Advocates and the Alzheimer's Association.
See prairiefoxbooks.com/pridefest and facebook.com/OttawaFamilyPrideFestival for more information and/or to sign up as a volunteer or vendor.
To make a donation to the fest, visit srccf.org/funds/FAMILY-PRIDE-FESTIVAL. All net proceeds will go to the Youth Outlook Drop-In Center in Ottawa.
Conmy asks that potential corporate sponsors contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .