Actor Brett Crandall performs a part of his one-man puppet show at GC Pride Fest. In this particular puppet show, David and Prince Jonathan of the Bible’s David v. Goliath story are depicted as queer. (AJ Dome for Kansas Reflector)
GARDEN CITY — It took six months for Mariah Magana and her team at Better Together GC to plan and host the first pride festival in Garden City.
Magana, co-founder of the civic engagement group, said she knew in October she wanted to do something, and “we needed to get a plan going.”
The plan materialized Saturday with the community’s inaugural GC Pride Fest. Hundreds of people came to Stevens Park in downtown Garden City for colorful vendors, splashes of rainbows, bubbles, face painting, live music and more. The event celebrating LGBTQ community and culture featured more than 45 vendors, organizations and food trucks.
Better Together GC formed last summer with the goal of introducing civic engagement opportunities to southwest Kansas youth. Isidro Marino, fellow co-founder of Better Together GC, said the group is composed mostly of college-age people.
“Advocacy and activism are something that really attracts us as young people,” Marino said. “We wanted to advocate for our community but also make an event that makes this a safe space and is also a welcoming community event for all.”
Marino, also a Garden City school board candidate, said he has noticed a shift toward LGBTQ acceptance among the largely conservative and religious populations in southwest Kansas, especially among Latino people. That shift is largely driven by events like Pride Fest and conversations among community members, he said.
“I think having people like me, myself, who is Mexican American, and others who identify as gay or bisexual or trans or lesbian … I think by hosting this event and having more community events where people can come out and enjoy each other and talk about issues is really is what’s shifting the culture and narrative of our community, and it’ll only happen as we continue having these events,” Marino said.
Puppet show backlash
Marino and Magana said they didn’t hear or see any negative commentary, in person or on social media, regarding Pride Fest. However, an event last month not associated with Better Together GC, called Playchella, did receive backlash from local church officials for its schedule of events.
The owners of Hidden Trail Brewing in Garden City were set to host a second year of Playchella, an all-ages pride arts festival featuring puppet shows performed by Brett Crandall Studios as a fundraiser for the Wichita chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The event was well advertised on social media and on flyers posted throughout the community. Cornerstone Church pastor Jason Swann told churchgoers in his sermon May 28 that learning about the puppet shows “put a fire underneath me.”
Some of the puppet shows performed by Crandall depict the Disciples of Jesus as queer. Swann said in his sermon that the patrons of Cornerstone, which he claimed was the largest church in a 180-mile radius, had a “spiritual seat of authority” over southwest Kansas, and that he was against the event. He told the crowd he pushed back because of the younger children the puppet shows target, even though the event was listed as being for all ages.
Swann said he used the hashtag “groomers” in online statements against the show. “Groomer” is a term applied to pedophiles who influence young children into sexual activities.
Swann said he never called anyone a pedophile, but he did reaffirm his decision to use the term “groomer.”
“They’re utilizing puppets to begin the conversation of, ‘Who are you going to have sex with later,’ ” Swann said in his sermon. “If that ain’t grooming, then I don’t know what grooming is, I guess.”
Swann said he and Cornerstone patrons would not “picket or yell; that’s what dumb people do.”
“We’re going to affect their bottom line,” Swann said, “and next year, if they keep this crud up, they won’t be here.”
In a Facebook post after the May 28 sermon, brewery co-owner Cody Cundiff wrote that he understood some people felt “hurt and attacked” by one of the themes covered in one of the puppet shows.
“I have taken what each of you have said to heart,” Cundiff wrote. “I’m sure we would all rather build a bridge than create a hard line of difference.”
As a compromise, Cundiff and Brett Crandall Studios removed one of the puppet shows that depicts David and Prince Jonathan in the David v. Goliath Bible story as queer. Hidden Trail Brewing bartender Ally Hamilton said the event was still well-attended.
“We really didn’t have any issues and had so much fun that day,” Hamilton said. “Just so much love, all in one place.”
Show of support
Brett Crandall Studios performed its puppet shows at Pride Fest on Saturday, including the queer David and Prince Jonathan piece. About a dozen children laughed and commented along with Crandall’s enthusiastically performed one-man show.
Engaged couple Kaitlyn Hahn and Tucker Murray walked around Pride Fest holding a sign that read: “Everyone is Welcomed. Free Hugs and Kisses. Love is Not a Crime.” Hahn and Murray have been engaged since 2020.
“She thought I was weird at first,” Murray said.
“I did, I really did,” Hahn said. “But then I came to terms with my weirdness, and it just worked out perfect.”
Hahn and Murray both said it’s important to show compassion for marginalized populations in their community.
“It’s really important no matter where you are,” Hahn said. “Having a (Pride event) now, it just got me super excited. I just had to come out and show my support.”
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