UPPER DARBY — What started last year as a three-week effort together has blossomed into a 100-vendor festival that will move to Delaware County Pride next year.
On Saturday, hundreds of people converged on Upper Darby High School where rainbows flew in all shapes and sizes to celebrate the second Upper Darby Pride, organized by UDTJ (Understanding, Devotion, Take Action, Justice).
“This is an important milestone for the LGBTQ community here in Delaware County,” said UDTJ’s Kyle McIntyre, noting that this represents a move forward with progress, equality and visibility. “I think there’s a lot more work to do here in Delaware County, of course, but we’re excited to transition into Delaware County Pride next year.”
Pointing to the memorial wall of photos of victims of violence in the LGBTQ community, including Matthew Shephard and the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, McIntyre said: ‘It’s in memory, to respect those who came before us. That’s why it’s important, like that, that’s why.
Dyamond Gibbs, also from the UDTJ, explained that Pride did not exist in this community, however diverse, just a few years ago.
“We didn’t have this event when we were in high school,” she explained. “We graduated in 2016… So last year we were like, ‘Hey, we have to bring this to Upper Darby. We only had three weeks to do it and we did it.
“This year we had a lot more time and we were able to double in size, even if the weather is a bit crappy, we’re still proud to be here today,” Gibbs continued. “It really means a lot to have pride…in a way of celebrating Upper Darby. It’s been long overdue.
McIntyre invited interested people to get involved at UDTJ.org.
“I want people to know that there is a place for them here in Delaware County, that there is a home here, that they are loved, that they are accepted and that there is a way to get involved,” he said.
The festival began with a march from Beverly Hills Middle School to Upper Darby High School, where 100 vendors were set up, along with two food trucks – Ox’s Way and I’ve Got the Juice Cafe – an HIV/STD testing van , a SEPTA Bus, Mr. Softee and a mobile game truck.
Among the dozens of performers were Philly Cheer Elite, Balena Canto, other drag queens, musicians, poets and more.
The Delaware County chapter of Free Mom Hugs also had a tent and was busy connecting with festival goers.
“Our focus is just advocacy – making sure everyone is seen and heard,” said Tish Mejias. “We attended weddings and graduations. We give happy messages and, of course, we give hugs.
Mejias explained why these moms do what they do.
“I don’t think people express how important it is to be on someone’s side and make them feel like they’re seen and that they matter,” she said, ” and sometimes you can express it with a hug.”
She added that she also enjoys being at Upper Darby Pride and others like it.
“Through events like this, we sometimes have people who haven’t yet come out to their school community or family,” Meijas said. “So we’re able to experience that firsthand with them and give them that encouragement.”
Delaware County Chapter Area Manager Bonnie Kaplan agreed and encouraged like-minded people to contact them through their Facebook page.
“We are thrilled to be able to engage with people in our region and let people know that everyone matters, that everyone deserves to be loved for who they are,” she said.
Vendors were equally excited to attend.
Carrie Woodall of Aston’s Blowin Bubbles Bath Emporium brought her soaps to Upper Darby Pride.
“I love it,” she said. “I want to be part of it. I’m proud to be part of it. I think it’s important to show more spirit because it’s necessary. Children have to grow up knowing who they are, that’s good.
Nearby, Angela Evans of Butterfly Creationz from Cheltenham, agreed.
“It’s part of life now,” she says. “People have to accept it. I have family members and they were afraid to come out. I had an ex-sister-in-law who was battling…depression…It’s part of life, so it’s time to get out here and enjoy, welcome and hug everyone.
In the youth zone, Erin Bailey and her child, Zelda Bailey-Peoples, were testing their skills with unicorn ring throwing.
“We came to support our local Pride festival and march because I’m here and my child is non-binary,” Erin said. “It’s important to be in the community and for our community to have events like this, to show that we support all the people here.”
Natalie Newhart and her friends, Joe Frunzi, Chris Dormer, Andey Simmons and Darcel Ruff, had also participated in the march and then enjoyed the festival.
“The community is beautiful and I’m new here,” Newhart said.
Ruff accepted in the spirit of community.
“I’m a big fan of people breaking down barriers to come together, help each other and support each other,” she said as she and her friends posed together.
For Dormer, Pride was also about the message it sends to the wider community.
“To me, it shows there’s actually a community and a lot of support in the county,” he said. “You have a celebration like this and you can see it. It makes people more open to coming out and less afraid of being rejected because they learn that they already have a community, they have people who will be there and support them.