Nearly 400 people gathered Saturday at Central Park for Northfield’s inaugural Pride in the Park event.

Two of the people in attendance, Alec LaVoi and Cortney Fischer, expressed the sentiments organizers intended to convey: That Northfield provided a welcoming atmosphere for them as members of the LGBTQ community.

LaVoi, who is transgender, said he first realized his gender identity when he was in high school and was initially nervous over how he would be accepted once he became open with his identity. However, he was met with acceptance. Since then, LaVoi, now 20 and Northfield Union of Youth Key Youth Center Board co-president, said his mental health has improved, and he credits The Key with helping him during that time.

“I expected it to be a whole lot worse than what it was,” LaVoi noted.

Fischer, now 21, expressed an appreciation for being able to live her identity in an accepting community.

The inaugural event took place during National Pride Month and was hosted by Northfield Public Library. The event included a Pride Story time, Zumba/cardio dance fitness classes from the Northfield Family YMCA, and a Northfield Dance Academy performance. The Northfield Union of Youth offered gender pronoun buttons, and Northfield Arts Guild made Pride pompoms. The library’s Bookmobile featured a selection of LGBTQ books, and library staff were on-hand to issue library cards. Other exhibitors expected to be at Central Park included the Minnesota Transgender Alliance, OutFront Minnesota, FiftyNorth, the trans-owned company Homebody MN, and several Northfield churches.

Ariannah Wolf, a high school freshman who has been openly living as bisexual for three years, noted she was told of the event during a study hall. She said the community has proven to be a good place for members of the LGBTQ community.

“Everyone is super-supportive,” she noted.

Emily Lloyd, youth services librarian and materials selector at Northfield Public Library, said the library is an inclusive place for all community members, noting she wears a rainbow lanyard to symbolize that acceptance.

Lloyd, who came out as a member of the LGBTQ community as an 18-year-old in 1992, was reminded in the years following her announcement how far society had to go to become accepting of the LGBTQ community: She remembers “Saturday Night Live” mocking the 1997 announcement of Ellen DeGeneres that she was a lesbian. Now, SNL features two LGBTQ cast members.

Lloyd said seeing a rainbow flag on a car as an 11-year-old girl was a key moment for her in understanding that LGBTQ people were living openly and proud of who they were. The event, she says, was intended for LGBTQ children traveling by who were scared to be who they are to have a similar moment, and avoid feeling the fear that prevented her from coming out.

As people gathered on a nearly 100-degree day, Lloyd said she was impressed with how many people attended.

“We had no idea it would be this big,” she said of Saturday’s event.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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