June 26, Lebanon’s first-ever Pride celebration Lebanon’s Got Pride will be held at Scott Church’s “The Church” venue.

A free tea dance, open to the public, will be held alongside a potluck from 4 to 7 p.m., accompanied by music from DJ Derek Rentschler. The monthly Lebanon Drag Night, costing $10 at the door, will start at 7 p.m.

While the event is open to all ages, individuals 21 or older may BYOB. A permit was approved by the city June 18 for a block of S. 8th Street to close during the event for the safety of guests.

Lebanon’s Got Pride flyer.

Plans for the festival began when Richard Turner, drag name Whitley, noticed the lack of local Pride events and sought to bring one to Lebanon. Around a month ago, Turner brought the idea to Scott Church.

“A couple years ago I noticed there wasn’t a Lebanon Pride and I wanted to get some people that would be interested in actually being part of a board or whatever so we could get something started,” explained Turner.

Church immediately agreed to host the event, and planning started right away. Local members of the LGBT community Betsy Espinosa and Joseph Romanoff also became involved in the planning process.

From left to right, Scott Church, Joseph Romanoff, Richard Turner and Betsy Espinosa pose in front of Church’s building.

According to Church, a Lebanon Pride event is long overdue.

“Honestly, I want to be able to show the city that you can do this sort of event and nobody’s gonna have a problem with it,” explained Church. “A lot of the reasons that this sort of thing didn’t happen in the past is because people were afraid to plant their flag. There is a substantial LGBT community here in the city of Lebanon.

“We should’ve been doing this festival 20 years ago, 25 years ago. This should’ve been happening here a long time ago.”

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, which is why the June 26 date was selected. Pride Month honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising—a watershed moment for the Gay Rights Movement—and recognizes LGBT people who have made contributions to history. Countless pride celebrations are held in June across the country.

“The gay people in every city, we’re still fighting,” explained Turner. “Everything’s not said and done. We still have a long way to go for rights.”

Romanoff, Turner and Espinosa all have stories of what it was like for them growing up gay. But society’s attitude toward gay people is changing, they said.

“Back in the ‘90s it just wasn’t cool to be around people who were assumed to be gay,” explained Romanoff. “And I was that person who had no social life because I was gay.

“Respect those who paved your way because there’s a reason why we have [gay pride celebrations].”

One motivator to plan the celebration this year was that many other Pennsylvania Pride celebrations were canceled due to Covid-19. This left Lebanon residents who normally would attend a neighboring area’s Pride event possibly missing out on this community.

“You’ll have that small group of people that will pre-plan and try to request off and try to make that vacation time to go to a pride event that’s an hour and a half, two hours away, just to have that first experience of being accepted,” said Espinosa. “If we can accomplish that here, you can come on your lunch break, you can bring your entire family. You have not just that experience but you have that community support.”

While future Lebanon Pride events will likely be larger (and there will be future events), Church emphasized that this year, the celebration will be simple: A potluck, music, a drag show and a chance for the community to gather.

“What this event is, is it’s a community event,” said Church. “We’re not doing this for money, trust me, we’re not gonna be making money from this. We are doing this to give a safe place so the LGBT community can be welcomed right in the middle of the city, in the heart of the art district. We are putting our stamp down and saying, ‘you are welcome here’ all day.”

A drag show at The Church held earlier this year. Photo from the Lebanon DRAG Night Facebook Page.

June 26’s celebration isn’t the first LGBT event to be put on at The Church. In addition to earlier events, Whitley has been hosting (socially distant and masked) drag shows there since October. One of the earliest events at The Church was the annual Gay Prom.

“It felt like what we were supposed to be doing,” Church said emphatically of the Gay Prom. “Last year we couldn’t do anything, and this year we had to do this.”

The pride celebration and drag show will be open to all people of all ages, though parental discretion is advised. Guests are encouraged to come regardless of their orientation.

Whitley, Turner’s drag queen.

“Everybody’s welcome,” said Turner. “It’s about love. It’s really not about being gay, it’s about love. Love each other.”

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.