First Community Pride Festival held


EATON — On a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in early May, Fort St. Clair State Park in Eaton, was the location of history in western Ohio: Preble County’s first annual Community Pride Event.

The event was organized by Clayton Jaros, Jordan Gwynne and Bobbie Arnold, three Preble County residents and board members of the newly-formed organization, Preble County Pride. Founded by Clayton Jaros, the organization’s mission is to bring diversity and LGBTQIA+ visibility, awareness, and acceptance to Preble County, and surrounding areas.

“My board and I started planning for this a while back. It’s been four months, and the last 3 weeks of planning have been crazy,” Jaros said. When asked on a scale of one-10 how difficult the planning was for this event compared to last year’s unofficial first Pride Potluck, Jaros gave it a seven out of 10.

“We had a lot more visibility. A lot more people showed up than we had expected. This was a great opportunity not only for our organization, but also for LGBTQ+ visibility in Preble County itself. I just didn’t anticipate this great turnout,” he said.

The cabin at Fort St. Clair was adorned in three colorful pride flags and surrounded by 20-25 vendors and organizations with tables full of information and merchandise. A face painting booth had several kids surrounding it, eagerly awaiting their turns. People mingled among each other talking and laughing. A local musician played the guitar, and guests filled their plates and stomachs. More than 150 guests were estimated to be at the event. Overall there was a good vibe as friends caught up and many more new friends were made.

The picnic drew people from far and wide — several traveled from Darke, Montgomery and Wayne counties while another attendee traveled with her wife all the way from Michigan.

“I’m very active in LGBTQ health initiatives and I was delighted to be able to drive 40 minutes to hang out in this beautiful setting with such wonderful people. It’s really neat to know that we’re all connected. And so whether we live rurally, in the suburbs or in the city, I think we all need to show up for each other. I was delighted to be asked to be a part of today. And it was quite a lovely event. Really a great turnout,” Richelle Frabotta, who traveled from Montgomery County, said.

Elena and Victoria Pearson, a couple from Michigan also shared their thoughts on the day’s event.

“We’re from Hastings, Michigan. We’re here today because this event is one of the first ones of this year that we’re able to schedule to go to. We have a small farm, and Clayton and Jordan are good friends and they invited us down. And we said, well, we can’t miss it. So just to be together in a small community like this, To see the love and the gratitude and appreciation, smiles on everybody’s faces. That’s the way to start out. you know, even though it’s early Pride Month. It’s a way to start out the spring. We really enjoyed ourselves and we look forward to coming back next year.”

Also in attendance was Melissa VanDyke, a Darke County native, who brought a marshmallow fruit ambrosia that was a hit among the kids. “I’m happy to see this happening here. It’s long overdue. When we openly support the one-in-20 youth who identify as LGBTQ, we are less likely to see devastating consequences like depression, anxiety, self-harm and often tragically, suicide,” VanDyke said.

“Some of these kids are told abusive things by their own family members and faith communities. That they are not perfect in God’s eyes or they’ve heard their families make mean comments about other LGBTQ people. This is not okay. If we can give any young or older person for that matter a community that they can feel accepted and safe in, we are only expanding the good in ourselves.”

Preble County Community Pride was a resounding success. Photos were snapped and friends made as the picnic wound down. On this display, Preble County showed that it does in fact respect LGBTQ people.

When asked about the reasoning and purpose of Preble County Pride, Jaros said, “The focus of the Preble County Pride organization is not based on LGBTQ+ privilege, race, religion, orientation, nationality, or any other defining characteristic. Rather, it is about coming together and honoring each other despite our differences in beliefs and opinions. We cannot expect those who do not understand our community to accept us; we must build that trust ourselves and stop listening to the polarized masses.”

Jaros went on to say, “If we can build trust and respect among our rural community members by being active and involved in the communities around Preble County, inviting them to sit down and eat, have meaningful conversations, and learn about one another, we will be well on our way to an accepting Preble County for my LGBTQ+ family, our allies, and the residents of our county. Looking at photos from the event, I see endless smiles and times of togetherness. Happiness and building our struggling communities up are two of the several pillars of what this organization is about and what we will continue to work toward here in Preble County.”

The members of Preble County Pride plan on making the Pride Festival an annual event in the county. After the first run, the organization’s members are excited to make adjustments to make the following year’s event bigger and better.

If you would like to stay up to date with the exciting happenings with Preble County Pride, visit their website at

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