This past Saturday, Oct. 1, multiple groups in West Chester borough came together to celebrate Outfest, an LGBTQIA+ day of representation. Despite forward conflict from both the community and the weather, the numerous community groups persisted and let the festivities embody multiple parts of the town.
The day began by filling the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) building just on the edge of the borough. Several hours before any scheduled festivities took place, over a dozen volunteers filled the auditorium, having been brought in to decorate the building’s halls with pride flags, banners and even table sets for face painting and pins. “They brought us in to create a good starting point for future Outfests,” said Rebecca Rich, one of the volunteers and also an assistant professor of health at West Chester University. When asked about possible risks of protest, Rich told the Quad that her senses were more excited than afraid. “This is really Outfest 2.0,” said Eddy Foster, the project director.
While LGBT representation embodied the general sense of the room, multiple other plot lines took a toll on the event. For starters, inclimate weather forced a majority of this Outfest to be moved inside, with the partially diminished, though still problematic, Tropical Storm Ian pouring rain over the town. More seriously however was the degree of resistance which had grown in protest over Outfest even happening. Several police officers spent the whole event’s set-up communicating with the program director about how the street protestors would be handled when the Outfest moved down the road. For more info on this contention, see the Quad’s previous coverage at https://wcuquad.com
Regardless, as the clock struck 2 p.m., hundreds of people, sporting everything from pride flag capes to rainbow ballerina skirts, filled the room while “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga blasted out multiple speakers. At just a glance, the excited crowd was widely diverse, ages ranging from those too young to walk without assistance to those too old to do the same thing. Lights flashed, flags twirled and an already boisterous crowd was enticed to become even louder. This commotion was eventually managed however, by the numerous honored speakers taking the CCHS stage.
The speaking began with Eddy Foster citing the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin to justify his community action. “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being,” said Foster, quoting Rustin, “his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” Foster continued by outlining the work that West Chester had done so far, citing it as being “the first place in Chester County to pass an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination ordinance” and setting the stage for his politically focused follow-up speaker.
Foster was immediately followed by Lillian DeBaptiste, mayor of West Chester, thanking the community for their numerous contributions. Much like Foster, DeBaptiste worked to justify her standings with the LGBT community as an obvious move towards basic logistical rights, as opposed to any alternative. “Even though [Outfest] didn’t go right,” said DeBaptiste, “it went the way it was supposed to go.” The mayor went on to ensure that future Outfests would only become bigger and greater. “If you love somebody… you have to fight for what is yours,” said the mayor, who then cited voting as a necessary course of action for those seeking an equal future.
While the main auditorium was packed and DeBaptiste was followed by a number of other notable speakers including Josh Maxwell, Chester County commissioner, Rev. Sophia Foutres and Rev. Dr. Tracy Saletta of the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship and several area school board members among others, The Quad also spoke to some of the nearly one hundred people who had filled out the walkways just outside the CCHS. “I found out it was almost canceled and I was really disappointed,” said one woman when asked why she was there. Another group told the Quad that it was “insane that what happened happened” citing the related death threats as an unbelievably rude behavior. While they talked amongst themselves, these participants were watched by a small group of protesters in opposition of Outfests existence from the other side of the street. The general sense proclaimed from some Outfest participants was that these protestors were funnier than they were intimidating. That being said, the situation as a whole was managed by half a dozen police officers.
The number of groups contributing to this event was greater than many assumed, with everything being sponsored by Penn Medicine, the West Chester Borough, West Chester University, a YMCA of Brandywine and even Benchmark Federal Credit Union. The most active sponsor however was West Chester’s Split Rail Tavern. As the main speakers finished and the crowd slowly filed out, the festival moved to the Tavern, a West Chester shop that has been one of Outfest’s biggest supporters. They sponsored the “after party” and before the crowds even arrived, the tavern was filled with pride decorations much like the CCHS hallways. The entire bar and restaurant was devoted to the event and within minutes of the speakers being done, all the seats in the Split Rail Tavern were packed. Those who were running the main event got on microphones and expressed to the crowd that the celebration would last all night. All proceeds from the Split-Rail-sponsored after party were donated to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping LGBTQIA+ people through suicidal intentions.
M. Bordeaux is a third-year History major with a minor in Journalism.