David Moore has spent the last few months of this year going to pride festivals, handing out information, and recruiting LGBTQ vendors and allies. His message: Come to Morehead, Kentucky. Come to pride.
The now infamous hometown of Kim Davis celebrated its first-ever LGBTQ pride festival this Saturday, decades after such festivities first launched in major cities on both coasts. The day was hot—"probably over 100 degrees," Moore told VICE—and Davis was one face missing from the festivities, though a drag queen dressed to impersonate the notorious Rowan County clerk was on hand to take her place.
"I think it was probably the first time people had seen a drag show in their life," said Moore, the executive director and lead organizer of Morehead Pride. Moore and his partner—also named David—were among the first couples to apply for a marriage license after Kentucky's governor ordered the state's clerks to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and a video of the two men being denied went viral. "One of the first people who ran out and hugged her was one of the couples in the lawsuit against Kim Davis," he said.
Morehead and Davis rose to national prominence last summer, when Davis made headlines through her objection to last June's Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. An Apostolic Christian, Davis said issuing marriage licenses to gay couples violated her religious freedom and temporarily halted marriage licenses to all couples in Rowan County after denying several same-sex couples. She was sued and jailed for contempt of court.
The clerk's office eventually began issuing licenses without her name on them. But just a year later, a few minutes down the road from her very office, the town briefly became a place to celebrate all things queer.
Moore, who works in the marketing department at Morehead State University, finally married his husband last Halloween, and shortly thereafter began planning a way to show his pride. This spring, he filed papers to incorporate Morehead Pride, a nonprofit dedicated to town's LGBTQ community. With the help of friends experienced in event organizing and generous sponsors like Morehead's tourism board, Eastern Kentucky's first ever pride festival came together.
Moore says that a lot of people have accused him of only organizing the event in response to Davis's actions. But Moore disagrees. "I think it was a catalyst," he said.
Unlike last summer, when hundreds of protestors descended upon Morehead to show support or criticism for Davis's actions, only one protester showed up this weekend.
Moore said last year's controversy pushed the town's residents to decide where they stood on the issue of gay rights. Before, many could hide in the background, but suddenly, Davis forced them to confront whether they were allies—or not.
Sheri Wright, a poet and documentary filmmaker based in Louisville, drove to Morehead to attend the festival. She said she'd heard of several inaugural pride festivals this year, including one in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
"There've been people who have been afraid to be allies, or people who have been afraid to not voice hatred, for fear of being labeled part of the LGBT community," she said. "[Now] they're saying, who cares?"
Morehead's festival was far removed from the political campaigning, lavish floats, corporate sponsorship, and overt sexuality that's come to characterize pride in major metropolitan areas.
Some of Morehead Pride's 50 vendors paid $20 for a slot, while nonprofits got in free. There were no politicians on the festival agenda—not even the openly gay mayor of Lexington, an hour away, who is running to represent Kentucky in the US Senate. ("Unfortunately, Jim [Gray] has multiple events scheduled that day and will be unable to attend," a campaign spokeswoman told VICE.)
Instead, it was dominated by local drag performers, marriage plaintiffs, and activists. One speaker brought with him the "Sacred Cloth"—a pride flag that's traveled to historic LGBTQ events worldwide.
"[The cloth] had kind of taken the same steps many of us had," said Nikki Stone, a 27-year-old from Charleston, West Virginia, who'd driven two hours to attend Morehead Pride with her girlfriend, a Kentucky native.
Stone said she is a habitual pride-goer, and Morehead was her seventh or eighth stop this year alone. "It was really wholesome," Stone said.
Another of the featured speakers was Dylan Scott, a 16-year-old student and budding poet at Rowan County Senior High School. Scott is transgender, and all of his friends were there to cheer him on, Moore said.
Performing in front of the crowd was "terrifying," Scott told VICE. But a straight friend came up to perform his first poem with him, about the terrorist attack at Orlando's Pulse nightclub.
"Being up there with him for the first reading made things easier, and so did the fact that the entire first row of people in the crowd were all of my supportive friends," Scott said.
The teenagers were awarded $500 for SAFE, a gay-straight alliance-like club at their school. Still, "being a transgender student in Eastern Kentucky is a pretty difficult situation," Scott said.
But just having Scott there signaled a world of change for Moore, who also grew up in the region in the 80s and early 90s.
"I know when I was growing up, I didn't tell anyone," he said. "There was no one in my high school who was out."
And coming out as transgender then was unheard of. It wasn't until Moore came to Morehead State University, in the heart of Rowan County, that he was able to come out as gay and find support. Yet now in Morehead, Moore said that same-sex couples don't typically wander the streets hand in hand.
"You can't really be completely open here. You just can't," he said. When he and his husband did that, they've gotten yelled at.
But Morehead Pride, Moore said, is here to stay—though it might move to cooler weather.
"I'm thinking October," he said.
Katie Zavadski is a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter.