WINCHESTER — Fifty years after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn to arrest gay bar patrons, Winchester’s first openly gay mayor welcomed hundreds of loud and proud celebrants to the city’s second Pride Celebration.
“If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I would ever be mayor, I would have said, ‘No.’ If you were to ask me if there would be a Pride festival here in Winchester, I would have said, ‘No way.’ Now we’ve got both,” Mayor David Smith said on Saturday from a podium on the front porch of the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum on the Loudoun Street Mall. “Winchester has become the most diversified community in the Shenandoah Valley and I’m proud to be its mayor.”
Pride celebrations began in 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28-29, 1969. It was the first time in the United States that gays, lesbians, transgender people and drag queens stood up to authorities who sought to oppress them because of their sexual orientation.
A half-century later, Pride festivities are held nationwide every June, in major cities and small communities.
“We still have such a long way to go when someone can marry their partner on Saturday and be fired from their job or denied housing on Monday because of who they are and who they love,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, one of nine guest speakers at Saturday’s event.
Victoria Kidd, co-owner of the Hideaway Cafe at 141 S. Loudoun St., showed off a framed document from Smith that proclaims June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month in Winchester.
Kidd said the proclamation will be displayed in several downtown businesses, including Hideaway Cafe.
“You can go take a picture with it and say, ‘This is my town and I’m proud to live here,’” she said.
Married partners Eric and Mark Wingear, who grew up in the 1980s, said they never doubted that society would eventually become accepting of the LGBT community.
“The world is so divided right now, I think everyone in the country is looking to embrace love,” said Mark Wingear, who lives with his husband in Stephens City.
On the other hand, friends Rosemary Wallis and Sarah Burns, both of Martinsburg, W.Va., said they are shocked by America’s growing acceptance of non-traditional relationships.
“I didn’t think that gay rights would ever get this far, and I didn’t think that gay marriage would be legalized in my lifetime,” said Wallis, who is bisexual. “I didn’t think I would be able to come out like this and feel safe.”
“To have Pride celebrations everywhere, and being out in the open all the time, is pretty fantastic,” said Burns, who described herself as pansexual. “Everybody’s accepted, no matter what.”
The highlight of Saturday’s five-hour Winchester Pride Celebration was a series of drag shows that were staged between speakers. The lawn in front of the Civil War museum quickly filled with cheering spectators each time a drag queen danced and lip-synced to popular songs by artists who support gay rights, including Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Rhianna and Whitney Houston.
“I’m just going to say, you all know how to throw a party here,” Wexton said with a smile.
Alexa Shontelle, who held the title of Miss Winchester Pride last year, showed off her sparkly blue outfit that she made the night before.
“Might I say, baby, I look good,” Shontelle said.
Miss Winchester Pride 2019, Stephanie Michaels, wowed the crowd in an outfit that melded the American flag with the rainbow flag.
Winchester is finally starting to come around,” the 58-year-old said. “There’s a lot of acceptance, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Michaels closed out the day by performing “The Day After That,” a song Liza Minnelli sang on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
More than 500 people crowded onto the museum’s lawn, many wiping away tears as Michaels walked gracefully into the crowd and mouthed the lyrics written by John Kander and Fred Ebb.
“Someday we’ll be free, I promise you we’ll be free, if not tomorrow, then the day after that.”