A town of just under 2,300 people in Waldo County is hosting its first ever Pride month celebrations with six events scheduled over the coming weeks.
The celebrations in Unity will include the community’s first Pride parade on Saturday, a tour of local businesses and a 5K run, among other events taking place throughout June.
The group leading the charge is Diversity in Unity, a recently formed coalition of business owners and residents that aims to provide active and visible support for marginalized people in the town and throughout Waldo County, according to the group’s co-founder Colleen Maguire.
“It’s important to ensure that everyone, regardless of what they believe in or what they look like, is treated fairly and justly, and has the same opportunity to succeed as everyone else,” Maguire said.
Still, the decision has not been without controversy. A petition to stop all Pride month decorations began circulating in mid-May after the town voted to spend $1,000 on the events and garnered 90 valid signatures from Unity residents, but was unsuccessful, officials said.
Then, someone launched a website listing the names and addresses provided by all petitioners, as well as screenshots from a Facebook group where members had made negative posts about the events. The website further states that to get screenshots removed, the poster must submit a written apology that will then be posted in the original image’s place.
Diversity in Unity denied any connection to the website, said Steve Czarny, one of the group’s board members. The overall response to the Pride events taking place this month has been positive, he said.
“There’re always going to be detractors,” Czarny said. “The best cure for that is exposure, and openness and conversation.”
Diversity in Unity officially formed in April, but plans to organize the Pride month celebrations have been in the works since late last year, Maguire said.
Tony Avila, a member of the Unity Select Board, said he sees the busy Pride month agenda as a step forward for the town.
“People need to understand the times are changing,” Avila said. “We’re in 2023. We shouldn’t be discriminating against anybody.”
Avila and fellow Select Board member Tim Parker Jr. participated in the group’s first event Thursday where community members gathered to paint crosswalks with rainbow colors. More than 50 people showed up, twice as many as were expected, Maguire said.
“It was mind-boggling, and half of them were kids,” Maguire said. “That, to me, was absolutely amazing, because that was the goal.”
Connecting with young people and showing them support is a key part of Pride month, Maguire said, and her organization is conscious that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for anxiety, depression and suicide, according to 2023 survey data from The Trevor Project.
“We want all of our young people to know they are valued and accepted here,” Maguire said.