Defiance man plans events for the LGBTQA communityWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Last October, Seth Schlegel had a difficult time getting through his speech at Defiance Pride. It was the first event of its type for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied (LGBTQA) community in the city of 16,000.
“I looked out across the crowd and it just hit, like it’s really happening. I became very emotional,” said Schlegel, president of the Defiance Pride Foundation.
Last year, he told the crowd, “Keep your head held high, smile and wave. Say ‘thank you’ if you hear ‘faggot’ or ‘queer.’ Be proud of who you are.”
“We are all God’s children and like Lady Gaga says, we were born this way.”
In 2011, about 40-50 people walked in Defiance Pride. This year’s event is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 13 at Triangle Park, by the town clock. The eventgoers will walk three laps and then reconvene at Triangle Park before going to a potluck and raffle at UAW Park.
Schlegel also organizes “Alternative Lifestyle Nights” on the last Wednesday of every month at Westwood Salon, 2103 Baltimore St., Defiance. Since this month’s event is on Halloween, there will be a costume contest.
Schlegel has encountered some resistance in planning events for Defiance’s LGBTQA community. Alternative Lifestyle Night was hosted at another venue originally — but the day after the first event in April, the establishment received death threats.
“The owner told me the only way he would be able to have another was if it were a private party. Of course, I don’t have the money to do that,” Schlegel said. Luckily, he found another venue and the nights have been a success.
“There have been times where I’m like, ‘Do I want to continue to do this?’ because I’m afraid no one’s gonna show up,” he said with a laugh. Still, people keep attending.
“Everyone keeps coming up and thanking me for doing it and I’m not the one that needs to be thanked. They’re the ones who need to be thanked for coming out and making these events successful,” Schlegel said.
He decided to arrange the first Pride walk last year to bring the movement closer to Defiance.
“If I wanted to go to Pride, I either had to go to Toledo, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Cleveland [or] Indianapolis,” he said. “I also knew and realized how the community of Western Ohio looked at the homosexual community and I wanted to change that. I didn’t like being discriminated against just because I’m a gay man.”
Growing up in Paulding County, Schlegel was not out, but was still pushed into lockers and punched.
“It was like they knew, even though I didn’t tell them,” he said. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I didn’t have anybody that I could go to as far as teachers, guidance counselors.”
This is why Schlegel is a big believer in anti-bullying education.
“If parents can teach their kids to love and accept everyone … then we wouldn’t have all these teen suicides that are going on,” he said.
Today when Schlegel is called names while out in public, he is ready with a response.
“A lot of times, I just turn around and say, ‘Thank you.’ That’s telling them ‘I don’t care what you think … I’m thanking you for realizing who I am,’” he said.
Defiance Pride is also organizing two LGBTQ proms, one for youth and one for adults. The dates will be announced.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/defiance.pride.