Written by Mike Fratz

As June approaches, I find myself filled with humble excitement for what promises to be a landmark event in our beloved Garrett County. As a gay man born and raised here, I have always felt privileged to call this place home. Garrett County has been a safe and welcoming community for me. Now, we have an opportunity to extend that sense of belonging to everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community through our inaugural Pride Festival.

This June, Garrett County Pride, Inc. (GCP) will host our county’s first-ever Pride Festival on June 15, 2024. This momentous event is a testament to the growing support and visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community within our community. The seed for GCP was planted about two years ago, nurtured by the vision and determination of its founder and chairperson, Devin Barroga, alongside other dedicated community members.
Devin Barroga, who also serves as President of the Garrett County NAACP Branch #7139 and as an Advisory Board Member of the Western Maryland Advisory Council for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, recognized the need for a supportive and visible presence for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Garrett County. Devin’s vision, shared by many, was to create a source of advocacy and support in our beautiful mountain community, where LGBTQIA+ people have always lived and contributed, albeit often quietly.

Around a year ago, Devin began rallying a team to realize this vision. This group, comprised of community leaders, allies, and concerned citizens, including Christians, started with simple gatherings like the Pride Social at The Alley. This monthly event provided a safe and fun space for LGBTQIA+ members and allies to meet, bowl, and converse. This initiative, bolstered by the GCNAACP’s launch of one of the nation’s first LGBTQIA+ NAACP Committees, laid the groundwork for something much more significant.

At the beginning of 2024, after a rigorous and lengthy incorporation process, Garrett County Pride, Inc. was officially recognized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Maryland. With the support of caring individuals, groups, and leaders, including Mountain Lake Park Mayor Don Sincell, GCP embarked on the journey to plan and host Garrett County’s first Pride Festival.

The festival, set to take place at Leo Martin Memorial Park in Mountain Lake Park, promises a day of celebration and community. From 12 PM to 4 PM, attendees can enjoy food and drinks, DJ music, entertainment, vendors, and informational booths. There will also be a Pride Art Contest with the theme “What Pride Means to You,” winning submissions will be featured at the $MART ART space in The Gallery Shop through mid-July. The day begins with a Pride Ride from 9 AM to 10 AM and concludes with an After-Party from 6 PM to 9 PM on Alder Street in Downtown Oakland, which will be officially closed and barricaded for the event.
Ensuring the safety and security of all attendees is a top priority for Garrett County Pride, Inc. In partnership with the Oakland Police Department, the Garrett County Sheriff’s Department, a private security outfit, and numerous volunteers with security backgrounds, GCP is committed to providing a safe and enjoyable event for everyone.

Garrett County Pride, Inc. aims to celebrate authenticity and freedom within our community. As Devin Barroga eloquently stated, “This event is our North Star. However, Garrett County Pride’s efforts do not stop there. Our main goal is to provide education and resources to our marginalized and vulnerable LGBTQIA+ community members.”

The mission of Garrett County Pride, Inc. is to promote love, acceptance, equity, and diversity by educating the community, honoring LGBTQIA+ heritage, advocating for LGBTQIA+ culture, and celebrating our diverse society. With a nine-member official board, including main board members Devin Barroga (Founder & Chairperson), Ezra Duncan (Vice Chairperson), Stormi Martin (Secretary), and Haeli Gustafson (Treasurer), GCP is dedicated to building relationships and providing ongoing advocacy in Garrett County.

I am profoundly grateful for the kindness and tolerance that Garrett County has shown to me and to the LGBTQIA+ community. That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle with bullying and mistreatment by some throughout my youth and even as an adult here. And many of my peers have suffered verbal abuse or much worse. But by and large, my overarching view is that our community is a wonderful and safe place filled with those who care about this community and many others. As we move forward, I encourage everyone to join us on June 15th to support this historic event. Let us come together to celebrate, educate, and continue to build a community where everyone feels safe, valued, and loved.