As Main Street fills with colorful decorations, banners and stage sets, people from all over Shenandoah Valley will gather Saturday in Court Square, the heart of downtown Harrisonburg, to promote a day of positivity and inclusive celebration. Music, laughter and lively hosts will be heard throughout the city as the annual Shenandoah Valley Pride Festival begins.
The Shenandoah Valley Pride Alliance will host the festival from 2-8 p.m. Run exclusively through donations and sponsorships from local businesses and organizations, it’ll feature drag queen entertainers, local food vendors and special guests such as Virginia state delegate Mark Levine. Rob Johnson, the president of the SVPA, works alongside its board of directors to bring the most success to the pride festival.
“We want to send a message of unity,” Johnson said. “We are a part of this community, and through the festival, bring many communities together. There is a lot of fun, love and caring. I think one of the main reasons why it’s so successful is the location we have it at, right in the middle of downtown.”
When the festival first began, it was met with resistance from surrounding churches and community members. However, over the past two years, more churches have opened up to attending Pride while less protestors walk the square. Johnson chooses not to reciprocate the disrespect protestors show and aims to explain their similar lifestyles.
“It is actually a family-friendly, wholesome event,” Johnson said. “Same-sex couples are the same as you and me. We put our pants on one leg at a time, we pay our taxes the same ... we do everything the same as you.”
Drag king Jay Love will attend the festival for the second year. Feeling comfortable in his own skin, Love enjoys the atmosphere of an event where everyone can be themselves. In addition to the communal happiness spread in celebration, Love and others get to know a new group of diverse people each year.
“Never be afraid to be yourself and don’t let people judge you based off looks,” Love said. “Be confident in who you are and just rock it.”
Audience members at the pride festival can expect hilarious entertainment from local drag queens. For the second year in a row, Ginger Minj will be headlining the festival. Known as “The Comedy Queen of The South,” she’s spent most of her life captivating audiences with her humor and performances.
“I’ve done pride festivals all over the country,” Minj said. “But there’s such a sense of love and community within Shenandoah Valley. For that particular festival, it just felt like home. I genuinely remember at least 75 to 100 one-on-one personal interactions because it is smaller and more intimate. When you’re in a huge festival or a big show, you tend to get lost in the shuffle.”
A well-rounded entertainer, Minj was a finalist on season seven of “Rupaul’s Drag Race,” and a contestant on season two of “Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars.” She’ll also be releasing her second studio album later this year and acting in the upcoming film “Dumplin’,” based on the New York Times’ Best Selling book. In 2013, Minj won “Miss Gay United States at Large” in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which led her to make connections within the community and prompting her to return for the festival.
“I think that Pride is so important in any community,” Minj said. “Especially now that politically we are so divided as a country, and I think it’s the one time where you can kind of put all of the nonsense aside. Everybody can just come together and find common ground and just be happy and celebrate.”
The festival will provide a free and safe space for people to show who they are. Where self-expression is honored and praised, the Pride festival will aim to define the iconic and progressive movement throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re celebrating and it doesn’t matter what makes you happy,” Minj said. “It’s that you come together and support everybody in your community. Because I don’t make up the community myself, you don't make up the community yourself. It takes everybody to make one big beautiful melting pot and to appreciate that.”
Contact Traci Rasdorf at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.