Pride, not prejudice — Homewood businesses prepare to fly rainbow flags

As spring arrives, the streets of Homewood will hue pink and green after a long, barren winter. But blooming trees are not the only color coming to Homewood.

The Homewood Business Association’s Pride Flag Initiative will line the streets with sponsored rainbow flags in preparation for June’s Pride event.

The June 28 Pride party, held the last two years at Flossmoor's Community House, is moving to Martin Square in Homewood.
 
   Jamie Ford of Flossmoor fixes the rainbow flags
  during the 2018 Pride Fest in Flossmoor.
(Chronicle 
  file photo)
 
HBA Director Julie Lawton says the promotional ornaments represent more than just great PR.
 
“Seeing 75 rainbow flags flying in and around our community is a colorful reminder that will not only have a lasting impact here, but will show other communities around Chicagoland that we, the Homewood and Flossmoor communities, stand in solidarity and without judgment with all of our residents,” she said.
 
Stephanie Wright, co-founder of Flossmoor’s Lighthouse LGBTQ, says H-F’s show of solidarity has already been felt throughout the LGBTQ community, though the flags are yet to fly.
 
“It sends a message that this community is being intentional in our display of welcoming,” she said. “I recently had the opportunity to share the news about the HBA Pride Flag Initiative with a friend. As tears rolled down his face, he said ‘This is why I love living here.’ This is going to touch the hearts of the LGBTQ community in a way that makes them feel seen, understood, and represented in their local community.”
 
Since its founding in 2016, Wright says Lighthouse has relished the opportunity to create celebratory and safe spaces, even when there are no rainbow flags to publicize them. 
 
“We are continuously working hard to foster meaningful connections and impactful education. It's important that we not only allow space for events like Pride, but to put in the hard work all year long to provide outreach, education and visibility,” she explained. “Lighthouse LGBTQ was formed because we felt it was important for teens, young adults and parents to have a space to discuss their feelings over a shared experience.”
 
  Homewood-Flossmoor
  High School teacher J.R.
  Rose gives a hug to former
  H-F student Callisto
  Wojcikowski of Homewood
  during the second annual
  Pride Fest in Flossmoor
  last year.
(Chronicle file 
  photo)
 
Flossmoor Community Church provides Lighthouse with its vital meeting space, as the group facilitates community outreach and dialogue. Still, Wright says, donated space is just the tip of the iceberg-sized support that Homewood-Flossmoor provides.
 
“When we announced the first annual Pride party in 2017, it was difficult to keep up with the outpouring of support from local businesses,” Wright said. “Dozens of local businesses showered us with offers of food, drinks, flowers and everything we needed to make the event a smashing success. We anticipated 50 people may show up. We were thrilled to host over 400. The next year we had an even bigger response in both sponsorship and attendance; we hosted over 700 people to celebrate the LGBTQ community locally.”
 
With the growing crowd, Pride has been moved from the Community House to Homewood, where Martin Square can more comfortably host the community. Lawton finds that the growing crowd at Pride reflects strong community values. 
 
For the HBA, she says, demonstrated support of LGBTQ residents is a no-brainer. Simply put, H-F is better, together.
 
“We are stronger because we can live side by side, raising our children to be accepting of diversity and differences in people,” the HBA director says. “We show our LGBTQ residents that we will stand with them and for them, and that this community is a safe place to live, work and raise their families.”
 
Flossmoor resident Jeff Stevenson testifies to the literal nature of Lawton’s words. He came to the area 15 years ago, seeking refuge from a too-often-hateful world. He has found Flossmoor’s diversity and inclusiveness to be the gift that keeps on giving.
 
“My partner at that time and I were really just trying to make sure we were in a community where we wouldn't be harassed,” he remembers. “The ethnic and religious mix of the community gave us the impression that we would be okay, but then it turned out so much better than we could have hoped. Neighbors were actually friendly and welcoming.”
 
For Stevenson, local Pride events hold a bittersweet nostalgia: they remind of a sour past, and promise of a brighter future. 
 
“The Pride event in H-F makes me feel whole. I'm 56, so my coming out story is much different from young people today,” Stevenson remembers. “To live in a community where young people are being shown love and support, and where we can all feel safe and valued, it just means the world to me. Back when I was coming out, we had to make our stories matter, until our differences didn’t matter anymore. Finally, it is beginning not to matter anymore, in the best way. The younger generation just seems to accept that there are gay people and, ‘so what?’”
 
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then for LGBTQ residents, Homewood’s Pride flags speak to an eternity of celebration. Like Lawton, Stevenson says it is only when a community stands with its most vulnerable, that all of its residents can feel safe.
 
“LGBTQ people exist in every race, religion, age, socio-economic status, region and tradition. Promoting gay rights is promoting all of our rights. And seeing the rainbow flag in our community should be a comfort to us all.”
 
For more information on the Homewood Business Association’s Pride Flag Sponsorship Program, contact Julie Lawton at [email protected]. To download the form to pay for the flags, go to hba.bz.  To learn more about Flossmoor’s Lighthouse LGBTQ, the organization can be contacted at [email protected]
 

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