The LGBTQ+ Coalition of Ashtabula County celebrates the queer community and promotes diversity, equality, and justice through advocacy, education, respect and inclusivity of all people.
Building a world of acceptance through P.R.I.D.E. (PRIDE = People Rising for Inclusivity, Diversity & Equality)
This all started in 2020 when Rev. Bill Daywalt, of the Kingsville Presbyterian Church decided to form the LGBTQ+ Community Club for Ashtabula County. His goal was to bring to life his passion for love, acceptance, and education to local LGBTQ+ residents, their families, and their allies. Local Librarian and ally A.J. Petro joined forces as a strong asset in planning and organizations. The club began organizing a picnic for the summer of 2020, until the global invasion of COVID-19 halted their efforts.
In 2021 Bill and A.J. decided to reopen the idea of a pride picnic for June 2021. Rev. John Werner, of Jefferson United Church of Christ jumped on board and was soon followed by local Drag Queen Mona Lotz (Michael Riffe). And that is when it all changed.
In April 2021, the Board of Ashtabula County Commissioners named June 5th as Pride Day for the county and presented a proclamation which read:
Ashtabula County has a diverse community which includes those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, transgendered; queer (LGBTQ+) and others who gather today to celebrate how far they have come and the important roles they play in our community. The Board of Ashtabula County Commissioners recognizes the rights and protections of all members of our community and believes they should be able to live peacefully and be treated with dignity and respect.
Within a matter of weeks, two Pastors, a Librarian, and a Drag Queen turned what was to be a quaint pride picnic into the First Annual Pride of Ashtabula County. Over $2,000 was donated by local businesses, vendors of all kinds were committed to attend, and a full line up of events and entertainment was in place by the hard work of these four individuals and the many volunteers who were eager to help. An official Pride Ashtabula County 2021 T-shirt was created and produced by local business Made in Ohio, that sold quickly to area enthusiasts.
The festival was held on June 5, 2021, at the Hamper Family Farm in Jefferson, with over 3,000 in attendance, traveling as far as Columbus, OH and many parts of PA. Attendees included LGQTQ+ individuals of all ages who came to celebrate with their family and friends and were joined by hundreds of allies. At 11:00AM Bill welcomed the crowed and continued with a statement about the purpose of Pride by saying, “It’s been going on for a long time and everybody thinks of Stonewall and the liberation, but it was before that. The community has been through a lot. We’re finally where we want to be. Where we can be proud. Where we can be together, and we can be celebrating. So, let’s do that!” He then encouraged everyone to shout out whether they were a proud gay man, an ally, a proud lesbian or whatever else they might be. Marcus Lowery sang the National Anthem followed by remarks by Rev. John Werner. He proclaimed, “This is an event that has spread like wildfire. It started as a picnic, and it has blown up to this. We are blowing people’s minds. We are saying, ‘Stop the hate in Ashtabula County!” He then asked veterans in attendance to raise their hands and thanked them for their service before leading in a prayer. A.J. Petro then read the proclamation from the Commissioners and declared, “Welcome to history in the making!” She then introduced hostess Mona Lotz who kicked off a live singing performance followed by other singing queens. Entertainment throughout the day included singer/songwriter Sue Hagan, drag shows, and a talent show. There was also a petting zoo and “unicorn” rides for children to enjoy throughout the day.
A meeting was held the following week with those who volunteered for Pride 2021 and those who wanted to help to continue the change and progress in our county. Those joining Bill, A.J., Michael, and John were T. Gallo, Nancy Rung, Logan Boyer, Joyce Beitel, and Autumn Vigil. Pete Scardino would join the group weeks later as well. The group agreed that the annual festival should be a part of what they accomplish in the county and decided that their focus would be towards education and outreach. They wanted to hold meetings for the community to get involved and work towards becoming a nonprofit organization with the help of Carmen Hamper, Esq, the organization's legal counsel.
The four founding members, who included Scardino, became the Board of Directors. The Board decided to give positions in the order of entrance to the original club, claiming Bill Daywalt as President, A.J. Petro as Vice President of Education, John Werner as Vice President of Events, Michael Riffe as Secretary, and Peter Scardino as Treasurer. The amazing group that worked so hard and had a strong drive to continue the mission of the organization would be named the Advisory Committee, which included T.J. Gallo (Advisory Committee secretary), Logan Boyer, and Nancy Rung. Additional members to join the Advisory Committee would include George Toth, Corey Gillich, and Harry Seabrite.