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One year after hate group confrontation, Prattville Pride is set to be bigger

The event is facing online backlash after an anti-LGBTQ website emphasized that the event will be “kid-friendly.”

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“These deplorable acts have been rejected by the common man,” Patriot Front leader Wesley Van Horn shouted last year at Prattville citizens gathered by the Autauga Creek for a picnic celebrating their LGBTQ+ identity.

About a dozen men joined Van Horn, donning the hate group’s typical ensemble of gaiter mask, sunglasses and baseball hat to conceal their identities— and, many believe, to intimidate eventgoers in the style of the Ku Klux Klan.

“They were absolutely trying to scare people away from the event, which was their goal.,” said Adam Hunt, one of three organizers of the picnic. “I do believe they succeeded, not in scaring anyone away, but they did scare some women and children at the event.”

Up on the creek bank, another 10 men also protested the event in addition to the mostly out-of-state hate group. They held signs conflating the LGBTQ+ community with “pedophiles” and “groomers.”

One of these protestors, who multiple sources identified as a local Prattville businessman, had two dogs with him and at one point threatened a man that he would let the dogs loose and “bite your balls off.”

That hasn’t deterred the three original organizers—Hunt, Caryl Lawson and Anna Evans—from working to make the event an annual occurrence, and making it more official.

Evans, owner of local crystal shop Wolf and Mercantile, said the event last year began merely to celebrate her employees, who happened to all be part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

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“I asked Adam to co-host with me, and Caryl came into picture as someone to host the afterparty,” Evans said. “It just all fell into place that way. It was not something I expected to be as big as it was.”

This year, the event is more official, billed as the “Inaugural Prattville Pride.” The trio has reserved two pavilions at Cooters Pond Park to host guests and live music from Slapout musician Jessica Meuse, who finished fourth on the 13th season of American Idol. 

“We wanted it to be vendors and live music and a day of fun; that’s just how we envisioned, there was not really a quest to do all that,” Evans said. “We just had all these ideas and started rolling with it. Prattville doesn’t have a pride organization, so (this event is) important to us … there’s nothing else like that going on around here.”

The event will include face painting and arts and crafts, and the trio confirmed the event will be family-friendly, including for children.

“Our entertainers will keep their acts family friendly and we will ask our event goers to be mindful as well when dressing for the event,” the group said. “We want everyone to be able to attend and have a wonderful time celebrating together.”

1819 News, an anti-LGBTQ media site, last week headlined a story about the event “City of Prattville to have first-ever ‘kid-friendly’ pride event.”

While the article is straightforward about the event, 1819 is an offspring of the conservative think tank Alabama Policy Institute, and its founder Bryan Dawson has made numerous public statements against the LGBTQ community.

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The headline led some to mistakenly believe that the event is being hosted by the Prattville city government; but the government’s only involvement is allowing the group to peacefully use a public space. Lawson said the group has been diligent about working with the city to ensure the event is held “by the book.”

The trio also clarified this is not a parade or demonstration; even last year’s event, while small, was more visible in the heart of downtown Prattville. The inaugural event this year is at a park on the outskirts of town. It is not designed to draw attention, the group said, but to have a beautiful space for people in the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate.

But comments on 1819’s social media posts of the article echoed the insults hurled by Patriot Front and protestors at last year’s event.

“I hope it rains so hard these freaks drown,” said an X user going by Deborah Armstrong.

Another X user called on Christians to act as “your city become Sodom and Gomorrah?”

Another user called it a “Groom-Fest” and numerous accounts equated LGBTQ+ people to “pedophiles” and groomers, or said the event amounts to “child abuse.”

One X user posted a meme about “killing child molesters.”

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The event’s organizers said they are working to finalize security measures.

“We completely understand that events like this have the potential to attract individuals or groups who may not agree with our message of inclusion and acceptance,” Hunt said. “We certainly respect everyone’s right to free speech, but in the interest of maintaining a peaceful gathering we would ask that our guests and volunteers not engage with protesters. If anyone is made to feel unsafe at any time, please notify any one of us, our volunteers or security personnel.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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