Jacqie McKenzie first got the idea to organize a Pride festival when she was living in Frederick, Md., more than an hour away from where she grew up in Cumberland, Md., a rural town of about 20,000 people in Maryland’s Western panhandle.
“I moved away when my kids were younger and lived in Frederick for about five years. We lived a progressive, liberal lifestyle and then moved back [to Cumberland] because their father was here,” says McKenzie, who identifies as bisexual.
“Then, this year, Frederick was announcing their Pride, and I started asking around, ‘When is Cumberland Pride?’ I kind of assumed there wasn’t one, and everybody said, ‘there’s not.’ So I decided we should plan one. It’s 2017, lets’ get this done. So I applied for a permit with the city and just went from there.”
Now, McKenzie, a 34-year-old who owns her own photography business, and the chief organizer of Cumberland Pride, is running around, putting the finishing touches on everything. For weeks, she’s been recruiting businesses to serve as sponsors, recruiting volunteers, and planning various events from Thursday, July 6 through Sunday, July 9.
Starting on Thursday, the Cumberland Theatre will host a short vigil to honor those members of the LGBTQ community who have died, particularly the victims of last year’s Pulse massacre, which is still etched into many people’s memories. That vigil will be followed by a screening of The Boys in the Band.
On Friday morning, a local yoga teacher will offer free Pride yoga classes. Later that night, Dante’s a local bar in nearby Frostburg, Md., hosts a “Dress Your Best” Jazz Dinner and Silent Auction.
On Saturday afternoon, Dante’s will host another party and live musical concert known as “Boots and Ball Caps.” Later that evening, local nightspoty Mezzos will host a special Pride version Rainbow Club, a pop-up gay bar night.
On Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Cumberland will host its first-ever Pride Festival, with live musical performances from local musicians, on the Cumberland Mall, a brick pedestrian walkway that runs through the heart of the town’s historic district. There will also be a small parade on the Mall at 4:45 p.m. to close out the weekend’s festivities.
McKenzie stresses that all daytime events, particularly the festival and the parade, are family-friendly and will have kids’ activities that are age-appropriate.
“This has been a traditionally more conservative area, so we want to show them that if you’re part of the LGBT community, you’re not a pervert, you’re not a degenerate,” she says. “You’re a family, or an LGBT person. We have families too.”
McKenzie says holding Pride festivities in Cumberland is important because she wants her children to grow up in a diverse, modern world. She hopes that the work she’s put into forming relationships with community members and local businesses will pay dividends down the road.
“My ultimate goal is to have a diversity outreach center, a place where we’re going to start by outreach to the LGBT community,” she says. “I feel like this will open a lot of doors, in the economy, in terms of diversity.
“Right now, everyone who’s my age and has my ideals leaves the area because there’s nothing for young families, nothing for young liberals. So they leave. It’s kind of killing this area,” she adds. “If I have to live here, because I have children with someone who insists on living here, I want to pave the way for other families with the same ideals to want to live here.”
While most people are not aware of it, the Cumberland metro area — which includes Frostburg State University, which has its own on-campus LGBTQ student group — actually has a sizable LGBTQ community, says McKenzie. As a result, she’s received very little pushback from her friends and neighbors when they learn she’s planning a Pride celebration.
“The community’s actually been very supportive and positive. Just the things I’m hearing, it’s like, ‘Cumberland’s getting a Pride? That’s amazing. It’s about time,'” says McKenzie. “Everyone’s really excited, everyone wants to volunteer.
“There have been a couple of people who are like, ‘Why? This shouldn’t happen,'” she acknowledges. “But that’s normal, [and] you get that in any area. And it’s been a teeny, tiny blip.”
That said, McKenzie will be happy when her normal life resumes after the Pride festival, the planning of which has consumed an enormous amount of her time.
“Because everybody’s been so supportive and helpful, it’s not been difficult, just time-consuming,” she says with a laugh. “Everyone is coming together to make this happen, so it’s uniting the area.”
Cumberland Pride festivities run from Thursday, July 6 to Sunday, July 9. For specific event times and locations, visit cumberlandpride.org.