COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As Pride Month kicks off Thursday, advocates are uniting the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their identities as a protest against the anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed at the Ohio Statehouse. 

The month-long celebration each June recognizes the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community and remembers the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, a series of conflicts between police and LGBTQ+ protesters that stretched over six days. Today, Pride commemorates the Stonewall protesters with parades, festivals, memorials and more. 

“Pride comes from protest,” said Zac Boyer, the director of community programs and marketing for Stonewall Columbus. “It comes from standing up for our community, and for who we are as people and our right to be able to live authentically and openly.”

Boyer said Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community is celebrating Pride as “an act of protest” in 2023 against the bills introduced at the Statehouse aiming to restrict queer and transgender Ohioans. 

One bill heading for a floor vote in the House of Representatives is the “Save Women’s Sports Act” which would ban trans athletes from participating in school sports aligned with their gender identity. The “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” is also moving forward and would prohibit various medical treatments for trans minors.

In addition, House Bill 183 has been introduced to ban trans students from using a restroom aligned with their gender identity at schools, along with the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which advocates said would force educators to out LGBTQ+ students.

This year’s Pride is an opportunity to combat those bills that are “misguiding and misinforming” Ohioans on the LGBTQ+ community, Boyer said. 

“Being able to have a moment to celebrate joy, to celebrate love, to celebrate authenticity and identity is a form of protest, and we’re really excited as an organization to be able to help facilitate that for central Ohio,” Boyer said. 

Stonewall Columbus is beginning its Pride celebration with a rainbow illumination of City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on June 5. At the event, city leaders will present the Steven Shellabarger Illuminator Award to an individual who has demonstrated an outstanding initiative to promote LGBTQ+ rights and has created a more inclusive Columbus. Last year’s winner was Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, the deputy director for Equality Ohio. 

Then, the Pride festival begins at 4 p.m. on June 16 at Goodale Park and runs until 10 p.m. with food, more than 200 vendors, nonprofit organizations, community resources, and live entertainment. The celebration continues at 10:30 a.m. on June 17 with Stonewall’s Pride march at Broad and High streets.

While the city’s first Pride march happened in 1981 with just 200 people, the Stonewall Columbus Pride welcomes more than 700,000 visitors today.

Boyer said this year’s coordination team aims to make the march and festival more accessible. Stonewall has partnered with the Columbus Convention Center to provide parking for attendees using wheelchairs or other mobility devices and a reserved area to watch the parade. 

There will also be a quiet zone within the convention center for attendees who need to decompress. Stonewall has partnered with Spectrum Mental Health, a resource focused on the LGBTQ+ community and people on the autism spectrum, to help facilitate the quiet zone. 

“This is a weekend for us to be able to look back at the different things that our community has faced, the resiliency that we have as a community, as well as just being able to center ourselves and recognize the work that we still have left to do,” Boyer said.

While Stonewall Columbus is more than 40 years old, the organization is confined to a six-person staff. Boyer is encouraging members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies to volunteer to help put on the festival and march. 

Learn more about the Stonewall Columbus Pride March and Festival and how to volunteer here.