Altoona saw its first Pride parade Friday, coinciding with National Coming Out Day.
Forty-four organizations, including Penn State Altoona student groups and sports teams, local businesses and support groups from across Central Pennsylvania, marched for a quarter mile in downtown Altoona. Some groups fashioned vehicles into floats while others walked and danced, holding signs of rainbows and supportive messages. Hundreds of spectators cheered along the parade.
Raya Kenepp is executive coordinator of the Pride Alliance at Penn State Altoona, which planned the event.
“I think people know that there's definitely an LGBT community in the area,” Kenepp said. “But having a physical event that kind of announces that, I think that gives everyone in the community the ability to come, to be able to visualize the impact of it.”
Kenepp said community organizers, including a handful in her hometown in Mifflin County, felt inspired and began talking about planning events to celebrate the LGBTQ community in their areas.
Jeff Kost has lived in Altoona for nearly three decades and calls the city home. He attended with his husband, John Lundbald. They’ve been to other Pride parades in cities like Pittsburgh but said the Altoona parade is different.
“Having it here in Altoona in my hometown means a lot more than having it in the big city,” Kost said.
Kelly Adamczyk, an Altoona native, said she didn’t expect a Pride parade would happen in Altoona, but was happy that there was a chance to openly celebrate.
“While you were accepted, most of the time most people don't say anything,” she said. “It's one of those things that -- the older people, they'll kind of be like, ‘Well, why do you have to have a parade?’”
Sue Patterson, the director of student diversity and inclusion programming at Penn State Altoona, said the parade “couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
She said while there has been progress in advancing LGBTQ rights nationwide, LGBTQ communities still face a lot of challenges. She pointed to the ongoing legal battle over LGBTQ employment discrimination the Supreme Court is considering.
“There are a lot of times this issue becomes something that is a political talking point,” Patterson said. “And we want to fight back and recognize that there's a bunch of people involved in this. There are a bunch of amazing people, both on this campus and in the local community that are in this.”
Organizers and participants said they hope the parade sends a welcoming message of inclusiveness in the area. The Pride Alliance said they would like the event to become an annual celebration.