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Friendlier City Project Celebrates Pride Month in Wheeling

photo by: Photo by Derek Redd

Joan Wallace, left, and Amanda DeShong write down their contact information to learn more about the Friendlier City Project during the group's Pride Month celebration Thursday at Clientele Art Studio.

WHEELING – Some danced to music around Clientele Art Studio on Thursday while others perused the wares. Even others sat at tables and talked, and more were playing cornhole on the back patio. The rainbow colors that represent Pride Month were splashed across the attire of many there.

For the Friendlier City Project, it was a great way to close out Pride Month, offering the opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies to come together in a relaxing, supportive atmosphere.

That is the group’s mission, to offer places for LGBTQ people of all ages and from all corners of the region to come together – and to keep Wheeling on its path to becoming an even more inclusive city.

The Friendlier City Project was the brainchild of a group of people including Wheeling City Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum. Ketchum, the first openly transgender elected official in West Virginia history, said she often would get calls from LGBTQ people and their family members with questions about where they could go in the area for support or just to make new friends.

Ketchum gathered with some of her friends and they brainstormed about ways to make those things easier to find, and the group was born.

“If you’re just new to Wheeling and maybe not otherwise connected, it’s hard to get involved,” she said. “Also, I realize that a well-organized community is a really thoughtful and forward-thinking one.”

The group’s goal, Ketchum said, is to help Wheeling make good on its promise of being the “Friendly City.” It’s not one event or election or project that will do that, but a long-term grassroots effort. One early component of that effort is a sticker depicting the Suspension Bridge in rainbow colors. The group has gone to businesses throughout the city and asked them to put that sticker on their doors, showing that business is inclusive and allied with the LGBTQ community.

“(Ellen McCroskey and Mikaya Green) have reached out to nearly 50 businesses,” Ketchum said. “And virtually every single one has said, ‘Please, we want to make sure that we take part in this.'”

Thursday’s event at Clientele was the first such gathering the Friendly City Project has sponsored. The group hopes to grow and sponsor more events like trivia nights and also lend its voice to political causes.

Group members saw Thursday’s celebration as a great jumping-off point. As the evening progressed, the art studio filled even more with guests who picked up Pride flags and wrote down their contact information to learn more.

“It makes me feel good,” Green said. “Like with the sticker initiative, driving through Wheeling and seeing all the stickers, and holding this event and seeing everyone show up, it makes me feel that I’m not the only queer person in Wheeling. There are people here and there is a need for events like this.”

The celebration’s guests agreed that such events were important in supporting the LGBTQ community in Wheeling and beyond.

“I think it’s essential,” Amanda DeShong said. “I think it’s essential to understand that we all make up the community. It’s not one single person. It’s not the mayor of the town. It’s all the people in the community, our neighbors. We need to get to know our neighbors. It’s about sharing and we all need to be able to do that.”

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