'The right direction': Equality Fest creates space for acceptance in York

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Though Tesla Taliaferro grew up in a neighborhood with several gay and lesbian couples, he was always told by his family that they were "living in sin."

And, although Taliaferro said he always recognized that he was different, he didn't come out as a gay and transgender man until his late 20s. 

Taliaferro attended Equality Fest with his church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, on Sunday, Aug. 4, promoting the organization's intersections of faith and acceptance of LGBTQ people. 

"We have a beautiful welcoming announcement, and part of that is 'You're welcome here, whatever your gender, whomever you love,'" said Taliaferro, who joined the church around the time he came out. "And I pretty much melted into a puddle on the sanctuary floor and was like, 'I'm never leaving this congregation.'"

Taliaferro's church was just one of many organizations that were part of Equality Fest, a festival celebrating and recognizing the value and importance of LGBTQ individuals in York County. 

Carla Christopher, the organizer of Equality Fest, said that while the festival is a party, it's also a festival full of people who want to work and give back to the community.

"Today is the York County I want to live in," Christopher said. 

Drag Queens Veronica V-Ron Lush, left of Baltimore, and Sarabesque, of York, prepare to perform during Equality Fest 2019 at Penn Park, Sunday, August 4, 2019. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The festival, held at Penn Park from noon to 6 p.m., drew in a crowd of about 2,000, according to Christopher. 

Along with about 50 vendors, nonprofits and other groups, there were arts and crafts programs, drag shows, musical performances and a bed race to entertain participants all day. 

"I think that we have a lot of prejudice and bias on every side," Christopher said. "We try to create a space at Equality Fest where we can get to know each other a little better and recognize that York County is going in the right direction."

As kids blew large, iridescent bubbles into the sky, teenagers and young adults danced along to music while holding rainbow flags and umbrellas. 

The Royal Square Jokers, left, smoke Family First Health off the starting line of the Big Bed Race at Equality Fest 2019 at Penn Park, Sunday, August 4, 2019. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

One performer, Jah Thomas-Friend, sang original songs at Equality Fest after Christopher, who officiated Thomas-Friend's wedding, invited them to perform. 

Many of the songs focused on themes such as recovering from toxic relationships and loving oneself first. 

After the performance, several festival attendees greeted Thomas-Friend excitedly, asking for selfies and pictures.

"Any place that's diverse and where I can see everybody is welcome is always something I want to be a part of," Thomas-Friend said. "Everybody here feels like cousins, aunties and uncles."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.