Inaugural Pride Festival in Payne County unites community

Pride Festival

Hundreds gathered in Stillwater on Saturday to celebrate the inaugural Payne County Pride Festival.

The word "first" has several connotations associated with it.

There is the feeling of accomplishment, a sense of importance and new, exciting experiences. Those and many other firsts came together at Payne County’s first Pride Festival on Saturday.

“We are celebrating Payne County Pride today, so we are really excited about bringing Payne County together, especially for Stillwater people,” said Kristy Self, a committee member of the Payne County Pride Association. “I was born and raised here, so it is really exciting for me personally, especially getting a chance to share it with our youth. I’m a [Gay Straight Alliance] sponsor and my kids are excited, and for many of them, this will be their very first pride.”

Andre Durham, the director and founder of the Payne County Pride Association, said he wanted people of all ages and backgrounds to feel included in this pride festival. With a short parade, a picnic and parties designed for a range of age groups, Durham ensured everyone could feel welcomed.

“We’re also a very family friendly pride, the parade and the picnics are family friendly,” Durham said. “We have a youth party, we have an under 21 party so that we can make sure that people don’t feel excluded because they’re too young or they're too wholesome or they’re this or that. So with that, I look forward to being at a family-friendly pride festival because not all of them are.”

For the past nine months, Durham and his team worked to put on this festival.

The organization became a federal non-profit, canvassed across Northern Oklahoma from Kingfisher to Pawhuska to get the word out about the pride festival and worked with community members for sponsorships.

All of that work was to make sure people like Leo Boatman, president of Stillwater High School’s Gay Straight Alliance, could have the best experience at their first pride.

“I think it is really exciting that Stillwater and Payne County finally have a chance to show our pride, especially since this is our first time walking. I want to make sure there as much people as possible,” Boatman said. “I’m so excited honestly, I’ve been waiting for this for a really long time and I’m really glad to be one of the first in something.”

Experiencing their first pride was not just something the younger people of Stillwater experienced. Lynette and Kaye Waller, the first married female couple in Payne County, got to celebrate their first pride together.

“To be able to walk down the street holding hands, in a place for the last 18 years we haven’t been able to do that,” Kaye said. “It’s great. We feel like real people.”

Lynette, who grew up in Stillwater, said she has been able to see how much the community around her has changed to be more accepting of her and people like her.

“It is exciting to see this in Payne County and Stillwater,” Lynette said. “I grew up in Stillwater and then I left for 20 years and then I came back.... It was scary at first cause everybody knew who I was and my father was a professional in this town. People would say to me, ‘You must be really courageous to come back to Stillwater with a woman,’ and I’d say courageous or stupid.”

Durham said he was prepared for backlash against the idea of the pride festival.

What he wasn’t expecting, he said, was the actuality of people’s attitudes.

“What’s been really fun is that we haven’t gotten any negativity at all, well no one has said don’t do this,” Durham said. “No one’s standing against us, no one is trying to stop us. We’ve had a lot of positivity, but the number one response I get is ‘It’s about time.’ Which is funny because I have only been here since 2015 and the folks who’ve been saying that have spent the last 30, 40, 50, 60 years in Stillwater.”

Saturday was Payne County’s first pride festival, but Durham said it definitely won’t be the last.

“Our theme this year is ignite your flame, and it has multiple meanings for us,” Durham said. “Ignite your flame as in this is the inaugural event, so we’re lighting the flame of pride here in Payne County, but it is a torch and torches are meant to be passed off. So we really want to help inspire other towns to have their own pride festivals. Ponca City, Drumright, Guthrie, Pawhuska, these are all towns with sizable populations but don’t have pride festivals. So it would be really cool to help those towns start to have those.”