One year ago, on a beautiful summer evening at Aspinwall’s Allegheny RiverTrail Park, the first Fox Chapel Pride in the Park event welcomed families and friends from Fox Chapel’s LGBTQIA+ community. For some, it was the rare experience of socializing publicly without facing any judgment. Families shared stories, made art, danced and played games, and kids questioning their identities felt free to express themselves.
Again this year (Thursday, June 9, 5 to 8 p.m. — details here), families will be welcomed at the park for an evening of celebration. music, games, community art. The fun will include art projects with Ketchup City Creative, artists Nanci Golberg and Cassie Conti, Art About Pittsburgh, the Cooper Siegel Library and the Positive Painting Project, plus food, a vendor fair and clothing swap, and info about local LGBTQIA+ community resources. Drag Queen Storytime with Akasha L Van-Cartier begins at 5:45 p.m. and a poetry reading begins at 7 p.m.
FC Pride in the Park, organized by volunteers, was the first Pride Celebration of this magnitude held in the Fox Chapel Area School District, and the hope is that the event will reach even more members of the LGBTQ+ community this year.
“I’m bringing my family to Pride in the Park so kids can see a supportive community and know that they can be true to themselves and still belong,” says Fox Chapel resident Ginger Thomas. “LGBTQ+ young people are at much higher risk of suicide, depression, drug addiction, and homelessness than their peers, and as a parent, this is frightening. All children deserve to feel they are safe and valued. I’ll show up as an ally and when the event is over, I hope that I, along with others, will be compelled to continue the work of inclusion in our homes, schools, places of worship, and communities.”
Last year’s inaugural event was planned in a span of just three weeks on a shoestring budget made possible by crowdfunding. The coordinator is Fox Chapel parent Sarah Shaffer. Her child came out to her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and asked, “Who else is in my community?”
Shaffer considered this question for a few months and asked her own questions, such as “What could we do as a community?” “Would an event work?” “How would it work?” Not wanting to compete with other Pride events, she decided to focus on a local community connection.
“We want kids to see adults and allies in a space where they can be themselves and be welcomed. FC Pride in the Park is about visibility to our school community, showing them who lives here and having them be aware and responsive to kids who need affirmation and allies.”
Shaffer hopes to build off the success of last year’s event: “I hope we reach a broader audience, more members of our community who missed it the first time, or people who want to explore Fox Chapel and see what the community has to offer. Really, I just want everybody to come and have a good time!”
Free, inclusive fun
By all accounts, the most popular offering last year was Drag Queen Story Time, where Akasha L Van-Cartier entertained an audience of all ages and presented a positive, glamorous, unabashedly queer role model. Akasha will return to this year’s line-up.
The event committee also added a clothing swap for middle and high school-age students, face painting, jewelry making, a history walk, and a poetry reading for those 13+ years old. And the number of food and merchandise vendors has jumped from one to 15 this year (14 are LGBTQ+ owned businesses).
But even as the offerings have grown, the event remains free and inclusive. Allegheny RiverTrail Park offers ample parking and many Aspinwall and Sharpsburg residents can walk to the venue.
The Wish Board
One striking aspect of FC Pride in the Park is an interactive art space. Last year, a colorful “wish board” consisting of post-it notes with handwritten messages adorned one wall of a former boathouse. A few of last year’s memorable wishes included:
“I wish my community would celebrate love and spread kindness”
“I wish my community understood that the world has room for so many kinds of people”
“I wish my community were a little fruitier”
This year’s event also celebrates more voices, including a diverse 11-member advisory board providing guidance and feedback. They range in age from a 10th-grader to a retiree.
Military veteran and parent Kim Andrews, who moved to the area three years ago and is one of the newer Fox Chapel School Board members, is also an advisory board member.
“This event is important because it’s an opportunity for people to learn more about the diversity and inclusion efforts we are putting in place. We’re trying to get as much participation and visibility as possible,” Andrews says. “It should be another place to feel like home. People have to expect that change will come. Whether you accept that change will come, you still should expect that change will come.”
Andrews attended last year and loved the atmosphere: “To throw this event together with such grace and to have so many community participants—it was affirming to the LQBTQT+ youth in our district that we’re here as a family,” she says. “We have to be the change we want to see.”
Cara Clarke, another parent, advisory board member and LGBTQ+ member, agrees: “I believe hosting FC Pride in the Park last year not only showed the local LGBTQIA+ community that they are supported and loved but also showed other LGBTQIA+ outsiders that we are a supportive community.”
The visibility did not go unnoticed by one Pittsburgh native looking to move back to the region. Sarah Grey, parent of a middle schooler, moved back to Pittsburgh last year and read about the event while doing her research.
Moving from Philadelphia back to her hometown, Sarah says the FC Pride event was instrumental in deciding on where to relocate: “I was looking for places to live in Pittsburgh and saw that this event took place in the Fox Chapel School District. Aspinwall’s website was advertising the event and I then read about how their school district passed a Pride Resolution. I figured any place that signed a resolution and hosted a family-friendly Pride event would offer a welcoming environment for both me and my child.”
Grey also appreciated the family-friendly approach of FC Pride in the Park.
“Many Pride events are adult-focused, so hosting something kid-friendly for those who are maybe coming out or questioning their sexual identity is really welcoming. To have those kids as the focus and not as an afterthought is amazing. To have a physical place to go means so much to so many.”
Place matters (and sponsors matter, too)
Susan Crookston, the founder of Allegheny RiverTrail Park, feels strongly about making the park an inclusive space: “When we first created this beautiful park, we wanted it to be a community treasure—a place where all are welcome. Hosting FC Pride in the Park at Allegheny RiverTrail Park is really a dream come true. The activities and spirit of last year’s Pride event demonstrated the utmost importance of being open and accepting to all people as fellow human beings in all of our glorious diversity.”
Local parent and Spark Books owner Adriene Rister is another supporter. After hosting an activities table last year, her bookstore has become the main event sponsor.
“I wanted to do something after hearing that kids weren’t being seen, supported and loved,” Rister says. “I wanted to give a giant community hug to our LGBTQIA+ kids and families and to send the message of ‘We see you, we love you, we’re here for you and we’re going to not only support you but celebrate you.’ We also wanted to connect families in an effort to prevent silent silos of people thinking they are all alone, when in fact so many families are facing the same challenges.”
Supporting FC Pride in the Park was a natural fit: “Independent bookstores, by their nature, are activists,” she says. “Being the main sponsor was a no-brainer— a way to give back to the community that supports us. My kids, your kids, all kids deserve love and respect. If they are lacking those things at home or in the classroom, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the adults around them in their community—in other words, all of us. It’s crucial. I want this event to never go away.”