ALTON - Pride Month is over, but resources for LGBTQ+ youth are available year-round in the Riverbend community.
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Alton Pride, a local LGBTQ+ organization, is preparing for their second annual Alton Pride Festival in September. In the meantime, they offer a support group with plans of eventually opening a youth center.
“It is not just about a one-day party. It is about giving back to the community,” Michael Paynic, a member of the Alton Pride organization and owner of Bubby and Sissy’s, said. “It’s more about support for kids these days that really feel like they’re not accepted in their families or in the community…[and] support for people trying to just be themselves.”
Alton’s first Pride celebration was last year. There were bands, drag performances, vendors, food trucks and a “youth zone” for younger kids with bounce houses and crafts. Paynic said that an estimated 1,500–2,000 people attended the event, which stretched down Belle Street in front of Bubby and Sissy’s.
This year promises to be even bigger. Almost 90 vendors are signed up to attend, and the organization is currently finalizing their entertainment schedule.
But Alton Pride President Nicci Kincer noted that the Pride festival is only part of what the organization does. She and Paynic have worked together to make sure Alton Pride is an advocate for young LGBTQ+ people.
“It started as our little brainchild,” Kincer said. “We had no place for our youth to go for advocacy or fellowship or any help at all [in this area]. We really had nothing geared generally towards the youth.”
Plans for a local Pride celebration were already in the works, but Kincer and Paynic wanted to do something bigger. Kincer soon learned of another Midwestern organization that offers emergency housing and other services to LGBTQ+ kids and teens. She recognized how helpful that resource could be to young people in the Alton community.
“When I saw that, I just kind of thought, ‘Why don’t we have anything like that here?’ So Mike [Paynic] and I started talking about it,” Kincer explained. “We thought that if we took a portion of the earnings from our Pride festivals and put it into a security account, that our long-term goal would be to have enough money to open up a brick-and-mortar crisis intervention shelter for LGBT and marginalized youth in the Riverbend area.”
That’s the organization’s ultimate plan, and they’ve been working hard to make it a reality. But in the meantime, Alton Pride is available for kids in the community. They offer a youth group, scholarship and free formal clothing for proms and other high school dances.
The support group, called the Piasa Youth Alliance, meets twice a month and is open to teens in grades 8–12. The group is private, so membership remains confidential. Other LGBTQ+ support groups in the St. Louis area, including the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, are also available, and Alton Pride can help connect people with these resources.
“We’re really happy with the things that we have been able to start for our LGBT youth,” Kincer said. “We welcome everyone, every community, into our youth group. It doesn’t matter what they identify as. If they have any questions and are just looking for a place to go for fellowship and belonging, I think our youth group is a wonderful place to start.”
The organization’s Pride celebration will take place on Sept. 9. They encourage people to reach out if you’re interested in volunteering or sponsoring the event. For more information about the Pride festival, including updates, click here.
As Alton Pride grows, Kincer hopes that the organization and the Sept. 9 event will provide connection and community for local LGBTQ+ people.
“For me, it’s a way of getting in touch with fellow LGBTQIA people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to the big festivals over in the city,” Kincer said. “It’s more grassroots. It’s smaller, it’s more personal. More family-friendly.”
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