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Staunton Community Prepares for 1st Pride Festival

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Staunton's first-ever Pride festival kicks off Oct. 5 Staunton's first-ever Pride festival kicks off Oct. 5
Bryant, Sproul, and Troxell are all preparing for the festival Bryant, Sproul, and Troxell are all preparing for the festival
Emily Sproul Emily Sproul
Cole Troxell Cole Troxell
April Bryant April Bryant
STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) -

People in the Queen City are gearing up to celebrate the first Staunton Pride festival.

For many people in the valley, this festival has been a long time coming.

“The first time I heard gender queer,” Cole Troxell, who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, said. “The first time I heard non-binary. The first time I heard trans. It all started to connect together.”

Troxell learned those words for the first time as a female college student. Now, Troxell identifies as a transgender man.

“I mean, I didn't start transitioning until I was 30, but I was identifying myself as a trans person at 22.”

That's when he left his Fort Defiance home and moved to Chicago for a few years.

“I think I would have started transitioning a lot sooner had I had the resources that I got in Chicago,” Troxell said.

But even in the LGBTQ community, Troxell's story is unique because of his family's support.

“Not a lot of people have families that are supportive and keep the door open and keep the light on,” Troxell said.

That wasn't the case for April Bryant.

“People always ask you, ‘did you know?’” Bryant, who identifies as LGBTQ, said. “‘When did you know you were gay?’ Things like that. I always knew I was different.”

She grew up in Stuarts Draft in what she describes as a very religious environment.

“Which has given me wonderful spirituality, but it always caused a little bit of conflict,” Bryant said.

When Bryant turned 18, she left home.

“I ran,” Bryant said. “I left here as fast as I could.”

Bryant ended up in the Navy, traveled the world, and was homeless at one point. Two decades later, Bryant has now recently returned to the valley. She's now married to her wife Kristy, but says her family still does not accept her life.

“There was a time when I would have given anything to just hear somebody say, ‘I know, and I'm OK with it,’” Bryant said.

That's what mother of four Emily Sproul is determined to do for her children.

“My oldest is queer,” Sproul, who lives in the valley, said. “ And my 12-year-old came out as non-binary gender fluid.”

She says it’s been a learning curve for her, but says it's important for her children to feel loved and supported.

“If you look at any articles, research, you realize that there is a much higher incidence of mental health issues for the LGBTQ community, and youth in particular,” Sproul said.

Bryant, Sproul, and Troxell all share the same desire for the LGBTQ community: to have the support and the resources they need, a safe space, with events like Staunton Pride.

“I'm really excited for those people who are coming for them to have a chance to be themselves out in public and have an entire festival where they are celebrated,” Sproul said.

Staunton Pride 2018 kicks off Friday, October 5, in downtown followed by a full day of activities for all ages on Saturday, October 6.

A variety of resources will also be set up. Plus, there's a Staunton Pride drag show that’ll benefit the Shenandoah LGBTQ center.

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