Metro-East News

Lesbian, gay community shows pride at fest in Belleville

The annual Belleville Pridefest was held Saturday on West Main Street.
The annual Belleville Pridefest was held Saturday on West Main Street. News-Democrat

Rainbow flags were on display, as people wore colorful beads and buttons that said “Loved by God” and “Gay by God.”

With the sun shining, attendees at the eighth annual Metro East Pride Fest in downtown Belleville weren’t afraid to show who they are.

At least 5,000 people were expected to come through the festival on Saturday, said Sarah Sowell, the president of Metro East Pride Southwestern Illinois.

“This is our one day a year we can come together as a community and be proud of who we are and not feel the sting of the discrimination that we feel throughout the the year,” Sowell said. “(It’s) just a day to be who you are, be proud of who you are, and enjoy being around other people who understand and appreciate you.”

The event, which had attendance by people both gay and straight, featured performances by the Gateway Men’s Chorus and students from Becky Kern’s Dance Studio, among others.

Among the vendors were Bethany Place, an AIDS service organization, and Well of Living Water Ministries, a church that openly accepts gay people.

“I love the fellowship, I love the unity of our church family in how we’re all in one accord,” said the church’s pastor, Rev. Deb Thomas-Scarlet. “We’re here for one reason, and that’s to let people know we’re no different than anyone else.”

Belleville couple Chad Grimm and Kevin West came to the festival.

“It’s fun to come out ... and see who’s doing what,” West said. “But it’s also important that people know there’s a lot of us in the city; to be seen, but not in a vain sense.”

Recent Belleville East High School graduates Jessica Munyon and Rebecca Shanahan came to show their support for the LGBT community.

“I have a lot of friends who are gay,” Shanahan said. “It’s good to see all the support and all the love, because they get so much hate.”

Contact reporter Joseph Bustos at or 618-239-2451. Follow him on Twitter: @JoeBReporter.