Thousands are expected at Metro East PrideFest in historic downtown Belleville, Ill. on Saturday, June 20 and organizers are busy putting the finishing touches on the 8th annual celebration.

 

"We are excited to offer a fun-filled, family friendly day with a diverse group of performers, entertainers, as well as a special appearance by an Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale," says Sarah Sowell, president of Metro East Pride of Southwestern Illinois, which produces the event. "We will offer a wide range of crafters, local artists, informational services and food vendors."


MepsiScheduleMEPSI was founded in 2008 with the vision of marrying the festive lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affirming pride celebration with Main Street U.S.A. While the annual event has grown substantially over the years, it still retains the intimate feel of the smaller town celebration and has proven a draw for LGBT revelers from both sides of the river.


"Our most important and monumental growth was receiving our 501©(3) status under the state of Illinois this year," explains Sowell. "This has opened many doors for us as an organization and will allow us to continue to expand. This year’s board is focused on teamwork and transparency. Our number one priority is our community and what we can do to give back."


"We are very lucky to be part of a community that is extremely receptive to our organization," adds Sowell. "They have always worked very closely with us to ensure that we are able to provide the best possible festival that we can. They believe in our mission and have always encouraged us to grow and become more invested within the Metro East area."


To that end, MEPSI will be presenting their annual community service awards from the main stage at festival. This year's honorees include former Belleville Alderwoman Dorothy Meyer who will receive the Doug Bernier Spirit Award for her longtime support of LGBT equality and to the MEPSI organization. Also being honored is Barbara "Jessie" Arms who will receive the Brenda Grissom and Dixie Ruliffson Community Service Award for her role laying the foundation for a pride celebration in the Metro East region.

 

According to Sowell, the awards are named in memory of Metro East LGBT residents who made a particular impact on their community. Bernier was a former MEPSI board member and a member of the Gateway Men's Chorus - and Grissom and Ruliffson are counted amonth the trailblazers of the area's LGBT community.Metro East 15

 

"Brenda and Dixie were pioneers in the LGBT community," explains Sowell. "They owned one of the first LGBT bars allowing the Metro East community a place to come and celebrate who they were freely. They went on to own a local detailing business in Belleville. Both of these ladies had a strong business sense and were considered to be strong and fierce. They had a strong religious faith as well and were founding members of MCC of Greater St. Louis. They were an inspiration not only to woman but the LGBT community as a whole."


Striking the balance of retaining the family friendly, small town feel of their celebration while also growing the event has been an important goal for MEPSI, whose mission is to provide LGBT persons with cultural and educational programs and activities which provide social support, and foster an awareness of the past and present contributions of LGBT persons, through community activities and services, including the annual pride event.


"We maintain this balance by continuing to involve local businesses, vendors, crafters and entertainers," says Sowell. "We feel as though we are a great place for individuals that may be newly “out” or for families that want to enjoy the day with their family, children or friends. Our family friendly atmosphere makes for a comfortable place for anyone that would like to attend."


The 8th annual Metro East PrideFest will be held on Saturday, June 20th in Belleville, Ill. on the 100-200 block of West Main street from Noon til 10 p.m. Organizers request that you please leave your pets at home due to city festival regulations.

 

 

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