By Annie McCallum
Hundreds of people attended the 23rd annual Pride in the Park festival in downtown Roanoke on Sunday.
The event intended to celebrate pride in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has grown since its inception. Even Sunday’s dreary weather didn’t dampen spirits in Elmwood Park, where people gathered for food, fun and outreach.
For the first time, the annual event was also an opportunity for same-sex couples to celebrate their relationships with holy union or blessing of marriage ceremonies.
The Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge held ceremonies officiated by the Rev. Joe Cobb.
“It’s a way for us to celebrate and honor same-gender, loving relationships,” said Cobb, Metropolitan Community Church’s pastor.
Kenneth Scott and Brian Tuck were the first couple to participate in a holy union ceremony Sunday afternoon.
“We’ve been together for three years and want to show our love,” Scott said, adding they are “trying to show Virginia everyone is equal.”
The two were dressed in tuxes and were joined by friends eager to celebrate with them. Linda Grout, who works with Tuck and is a close friend, along with her daughter, stood alongside the couple.
“Brian and Kenneth are getting married,” she said, “I just think the world needs to know we’re all one.”
Tuck said he wanted to participate in the ceremony Sunday because he doesn’t want to be with anyone but Scott. Tuck said he had some jitters earlier Sunday. He even locked his keys in the car, but the couple looked calm and collected as they recited their vows.
While their eyes focused only on each other, the crowd around them grew as onlookers and passers-by stared intently and later applauded and cheered.
“We are honored to be celebrating your union,” Cobb said to start the ceremony. “Together we gather in this beautiful, sacred place to celebrate love.”
The ceremony, which took place in a tucked-away spot in the park, was followed by a toast complete with sparkling cider and wedding cake — in the form of cupcakes donated by Viva la Cupcake.
Earlier Sunday, the festival kicked off with a parade that started at the corner of Jefferson Street and Bullitt Avenue. People sparsely lined the streets as the modest parade, in its second year, marched down Jefferson.
“Happy pride, y’all,” shouted Barbara Maberry, the grand marshal.
Maberry, 51, said there was a time where she couldn’t imagine having a pride parade in downtown Roanoke. She said awareness is important and added she wants “to let people know who we are and celebrate with us.”
Inside the park on the grassy area in front of the stage, Jayme McAllister, whose stage name is Kandy Kane, was enjoying the festival. As a second runner-up in Ms. Roanoke Pride, she said, she was asked to perform at the festival and would hit the stage later on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s so much fun, and the people here are so amazing,” she said of the festival, adding it’s an environment where it’s safe for people to be who they are. “It opens the world up for diversity.”