Community pride festival celebrates spectrum of sexuality, gender identity

Vendors+at+the+first+Columbia+Heights+Pride+sell+goods+that+can+represent+a+variety+of+different+identities.+

Photo by Blaze Reynolds

Vendors at the first Columbia Heights Pride sell goods that can represent a variety of different identities.

Daring drag queens, fabulous face paint, passionate poets and all things rainbow. On October 9th, The City of Columbia Heights, with the help of Mayor Amada Márquez Simula, KiKi Latham and countless volunteers, hosted a local Pride Festival at Sullivan Lake Park. This event had a plethora of engaging activities, countless vendors and delicious food trucks, as well as dazzling performances by drag queen Nina B West, DJ K Reeves and live music by Plutoh, the stage name of CHHS sophomore Lily Kleinschmit!

As many of us know, the queer community has been the subject of severe discrimination, the victims of unseeable atrocities and the ultimate challengers of societal norms. Needless to say, when news of Heights Pride spread, The Heights Herald sought out community insight on why this event and others like it are important for increasing representation in the community. This question of “why?” elicited very passionate responses from youth in particular. 

“I think it’s important for the LGBTQ [community] to be represented because we’ve been through a lot of struggles and hardships, and we need to be recognized as being just as important as everyone else,” said Lucas Gardinier (9). “Even today, there are a ton of hate crimes still happening to us, and the community should feel like a safe place where we are welcome.” 

However, there cannot be support and representation within the community without first having support within our schools. Columbia Heights Public Schools is a diverse district with people from every ethnicity, race, gender identity and sexuality. Thousands of other schools share these various demographics and have different levels of support for their students. 

On the one hand, I want to compare our school’s treatment of LGBT students to what existed when I was in high school in the early 2000s,” said Mr. Michael Prellwitz, the advisor of the CHHS GSA (which stands for Gay-Straight Alliance). “It’s way better, and the fact that we are talking about these issues at all and have a fairly active GSA club in the school speaks volumes to the progress we’ve made. At the same time, I know our school has plenty of room to grow.”

The high school’s GSA is so active in fact that they had their own booth at the festival for face painting pride flags and teaching LGBTQ+ youth about their club. The booth was completely run by student members of GSA and showcased the involvement of LGBTQ+ students in the community. One student that stands out as both a performer at Pride and advocate in the school is Lily Kleinschmit.

“I feel like the teachers, and the staff [do] a pretty good job,” said Kleinschmit. “But overall, there’s [still] a lot of homophobia in the school in general and it’s kind of hard to be constantly told that you’re different all the time.” 

It is impossible to discuss support in Heights at large without looking back on the scandal involving former Columbia Heights Mayor Donna Schmidt and her homophobic views that made national headlines. There was an attempt to host a Heights Pride festival in 2019; however, Schmidt would not sign off on the event as it didn’t align with her views. 

Juxtaposing Schmidt with Columbia Heights’s current mayor, Amada Márquez Simula, it is clear how their standings differ on the matter of LGBTQ Pride. 

“I heard from people of all ages, genders and cultures that they continue to feel very welcome in our little three-square mile city and that they love living here,” Márquez Simula said. “No city is perfect, but the LGBTQ community in Columbia Heights feels supported, welcomed and proud to be part of a city with its eyes on the future.”

There were many volunteers and vendors that went into this event, but none shone brighter than KiKi Latham, is a highly active member of the community, and Heights Pride could not have been a success without their help.

“There’s not enough representation of POC doing community work like this and I want to be an example of that and of the excellence that can be achieved with us,” Latham said. “I’m hoping to get a more diverse crowd on the city board as well as the community of queer awesomeness! I want other cities to know this is a safe place to come to feel loved, accepted, free! It starts with one!”

With all of the radiating energy of positivity surrounding pride in Heights, it leaves many wondering what the future holds. This event was the first step for miles of running, and the community is excited to see how LGBTQIA+ Hylanders will continue to be supported in the coming years.