Editor’s note: This time due to Mother Nature. With storms in the forecast for much of Saturday, organizers made the call to move the event inside. The entertainment schedule remains the same performances will just take place inside at Artillery Brewing.
Last year the West Chester Business Improvement District had a great idea. They would hold a street festival in honor of National Coming Out Day, on October 11, and show the business community’s support for the local LGBTQ community. “The whole point of the event,” said West Chester Business Improvement District Executive Director John O’Brien told me last year, “was to bring joy to the Borough.”
Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.
Volunteer and sponsorship support were slow to build and then word got out that the event included live drag performances. Opponents took to their keyboards and rattled off a number of “concerned” emails to local officials. The outdoor event was canceled. Allies rallied and things eventually settled into what was generally considered a positive, inclusive event inside the Chester County History Center with a subsequent march to the Courthouse. It was a nice day. Just not at all what was intended.
This year the event is coming back with new leadership and a mission to accomplish what it started – a street festival in West Chester in support of the LGBTQ community. To help, the LGBTQ Equality Alliance of Chester County has offered to take the lead, hoping to make Outfest their signature fall event. With them, they bring a lot of advantages, including a built-in network of volunteers, a 501c3 status helpful for fundraising, and years of event experience.
“We’re hoping to leverage the success we’ve had with Pride [celebrations] in Phoenixville for so many years,” said Alliance President Carrie Stare.
This year organizers expect to have about 30 vendors set up along Gay and Church Streets. There will be county organizations, local businesses, LGBTQ artists, and a kid section with a face painter.
“It’s our first year outside. It’s a little smaller than we hope it grows into being,” said Carrie, who would like to see business support amplified at future festivals. “For the queer community, it’s really important for the businesses to show up,” she said. “The queer community is going to support the businesses that support this community.”
That is not to say there is still not plenty going on. There will be a full slate of performances beginning at noon and running until 5 p.m. And, I know what you are going to ask… Yes, the drag queens are coming back. And new this year is the crowning of 2024 Miss Chester County Pride.
Is Carrie worried about having drag queens perform at an event where kids are welcome? No. No, she is not.
“The great thing about our local queens is they know how to read the audience. They are going to put on a family-friendly event,” she said. Note: There will be an after-party at Artillery Brewing for all you adults out there.
So, what about those haters from last year? I asked Carrie if her group had received any communications asking that they cancel the event – or once again, move it inside.
“We haven’t heard a peep this year,” said Carrie, and according to her, neither has the Borough. “Everyone we talked to had a fabulous reaction and were excited to see it coming back,” she said.
Still, there will be security on hand on Saturday but she is expecting little in the way of a disturbance.
“We just want to have fun. Come out, learn about the LGBTQ community, and support the local vendors that support us. We welcome everybody, ” she said.
Outfest, Saturday, 12 – 5 p.m. Enjoy vendor booths, a children’s center a,nd five hours of live entertainment. The after party is at Artillery Brewing. Outfest is a rain or shine event – unless there’s a monsoon or a hurricane – then check social.
WEST CHESTER LGBTQ COMMUNITY LOSES AN ALLY
Last week, Split Rail Tavern announced it was closing after eight years. The loss was felt by many in the community (don’t believe me? Check out the thank you highlights.) Regulars saw it as much about the “people” as the “place,” or as the Drunks of West Chester put it, “Split Rail was a home for us townies, a safe space from the college bar chaos.” It was also a welcoming place for the local LGBTQ community.
Despite the controversy, Split Rail hosted last year’s Outfest after-party. Until it closed it was scheduled to do so again this year. And each Tuesday for the last eight years, Split Rail hosted “Off the Rail” Karaoke – a weekly karaoke event led by local drag queens Anita Fixx, Roxanne Rohls, and Ophelia Hotass.
“Drag night was special,” Anita wrote on Instagram. “Tuesday night was a night where we could all be ourselves without judgment or fear.”
Originally published, Oct. 13, 2023
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