2023 Pride on the Plaza event organizers: Mikaya Green, Kellie White, Ellery McGregor, Justice Hudson, Ellen McCroskey, and Rosemary Ketchum.

Friendlier City Project Prepares for Second Pride on the Plaza in Wheeling

With Pride Month officially underway, one local group is gearing up for a daylong celebration of LGBTQ+ acceptance, achievements, rights, and pride in Wheeling. The Friendlier City Project, established in 2022, is a nonprofit committed to cultivating a welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment where our local queer community members can live, work and thrive. Last year, the group hosted one of its largest events to date, with its inaugural Pride on the Plaza festival. The festival was met with overwhelming support from the community, and this week, the Friendlier City Project is preparing for another fun and uplifting event. The second Pride on the Plaza will be held on Saturday, June 8, from 3 – 9 p.m. at the Heritage Port Plaza in Downtown Wheeling. 

Pride events have become known for their colorful, upbeat, and energetic celebrations, but the history and meaning behind Pride Month is, of course, much deeper. Pride Month is about acceptance, equality, and celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ activists. The first pride parade in the United States was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings – a series of protests over a six-day period following a brutal police raid targeting queer patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.1 While there were several notable uprisings prior to Stonewall, this particular event has become known as one of the most pivotal in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.2 Since 1970, the month of June has evolved into a month-long commemoration that is celebrated across the world – including right here in Wheeling, WV.

  • Pride on the Plaza 2023 (photos by Wheeling Heritage Media).

With the Friendlier City Project’s mission to support the local LGBTQ+ community, it comes as no surprise that hosting a Pride Month celebration would be one of their biggest events of the year. We spoke with Ellery McGregor, event chair for the Friendlier City Project, to learn more about what they have in store for this year’s Pride on the Plaza festival.

Ellery McGregor, event chair for the Friendlier City Project (Photo by Wheeling Heritage Media).

What are some of the main activities and events you have planned for Pride on the Plaza?

We really wanted to create an event that encourages people to stick around for the whole day, so we have a lot of activities planned all day long. We have a vendor marketplace and several community tables. We’ve asked all of the community tables to plan some sort of interactive activity for attendees – so that will be a lot of fun. One of our new board members, Adam [Payne], has organized an art exhibit with YNST Magazine called “Pride is a Protest.” We also have four bands playing throughout the day and activities like face painting, screen printing and tye-dying that they can participate in.

What efforts are being made to involve underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ+ community?

There are three events that we are really excited about – a name change clinic, a marriage and vow renewal ceremony, and a gender-affirming clothing swap. Legal Aid West Virginia Aid will be offering free legal help to start the WV name change process, which we already have about 10 people signed up for. And one of our board members, Ellen McCroskey, will be performing marriage and vow renewal ceremonies on the spot! At the clothing swap run by Medge Perry, people can donate or take different clothing items. It’s a way to support anyone who feels uncomfortable shopping for clothes, can’t afford a new wardrobe, or really any other reason – they can take what they need with no questions asked. 

A big part of our goal through this event is for parents of kids who are queer and queer kids themselves to attend events like this and realize that there’s a much bigger community and support system around here that they maybe didn’t see before.  

The theme of this year’s festival is “Pride is a Protest.” Can you tell us the meaning behind this theme and why it was chosen?

This year marks the 55th anniversary of Stonewall, which was, of course, a protest against the injustices that the LGBTQ+ community faced in the 1960s. We are still fighting some of the same battles after all this time, so it’s important to remember that the work still isn’t done. 

2024 Pride on the Plaza poster, designed by Hannah Hedrick.

This theme will be seen in YNST Magazine’s art exhibit by the same name. Artists were prompted to create protest posters, which will be on display at the festival. We also worked with Hannah Hedrick to design this year’s festival poster, which we had blown up into a large coloring page that attendees can help color in Saturday.

Have you faced any challenges while organizing this year’s festival?

Logistically, the biggest challenge has been relocating the festival from Market Plaza to Heritage Port Plaza. When we started the festival last year, we really wanted Market Plaza to be our home base every year. But with all of the construction happening in that area of town, it just wasn’t possible. Luckily, we were able to work with the city to get everything moved to the Heritage Port Plaza, which is just a couple of blocks away. We will have signs and volunteers helping people navigate to the event. 

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Can you share any success stories or memorable moments from last year’s festival?

Last year’s event was actually the first festival I’ve ever helped plan, and it was a completely new experience for most of us. So, initially, there was a lot of stress and late nights during the planning phase, but I was shocked at how well everything came together on the day of the event. People are really good about thinking on their feet and rolling with things, so I think one of the most rewarding parts was being able to look around and feel like all of the late nights and frantic phone calls were worth it. 

The day after the festival, our board had a recap meeting to discuss everything while it was fresh in our minds. I remember sitting with everyone and just being so proud of how well everything went. It was a really good feeling, and I’m hoping that we have the same experience again this year. 

SEE MORE: Wheeling Scene Pride on the Plaza 2023 Photo Gallery 

Can you explain the importance of hosting events such as Pride in the Plaza in communities like ours?

The whole reason the Friendlier City Project exists is because our board chair, Mikaya Green, wanted to create the type of community that she didn’t have growing up in Wheeling. She knew she was queer from a young age and ended up moving away to New York City after she graduated high school because she didn’t think Wheeling was going to be a place where she felt safe being herself or finding a community or partner. When she decided to move back, she had a goal to help build a community where kids didn’t feel like they had to leave home to feel safe and included.

Mikaya Green, founder and chair of the Friendlier City Project, and her fiancé Kayla at the inaugural Pride on the Plaza (photo by Wheeling Heritage Media).

There are so many great things about Wheeling, and it’s hard to feel like the only thing missing is finding your people. So that’s really our main goal as an organization, and we continue to build that through other events we host throughout the year, like Queer Thanksgiving, disco nights, and our Friendly Allies sticker campaign. It’s all about building safe places and fun events where people can feel comfortable hanging out with their partners and friends without having to hide anything. We want to make sure that anyone of any age, whether they’re out or not, feels safe and feels like Wheeling is the welcome, progressive, and friendly city we know it to be.

Pride on the Plaza 2024

The Friendlier City Project’s second Pride on the Plaza will be held on Saturday, June 8, from 3 to 9 p.m. at Heritage Port Plaza. If you can’t attend on Saturday, check out one of these upcoming Pride events:

  • Wednesday, June 5 at 7 p.m.: Pride Trivia at Later Gator 
  • Friday, June 7 at 8 p.m.: Y2K Pre-Pride Party at Clientele Art Studio
  • Saturday, June 22 (time TBD): Pride Pool Party hosted by the Friendlier City Project

If you’d like to attend Pride on the Plaza, you can learn more about the full schedule of events and activities by visiting their Facebook page. You can donate to support the Friendlier City Project by visiting their website

References

1 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month.” Library of Congress. Accessed June 3, 2024. https://www.loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month/about/

2 “The Stonewall Uprising of 1969.” Library of Congress.Accessed June 3, 2024. https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/june-28/. 

Editor’s Note: Weelunk is committed to telling stories and giving voice to everyone in our community – especially those who aren’t always heard. We know that there are stories from our LGBTQ+ community in Wheeling that aren’t being told and we want to change that.

Help us amplify and lift up the voices of everyone by sharing your Pride Month events, stories, and projects on our community platform. Send us a DM on Facebook or Instagram or visit our “Submit an Idea” page to share your stories with us.  Together, we can create a vibrant, inclusive community for all. 

• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.