Between hugging and talking with strangers at Newark Ohio Pride Coalition’s Pride festival, Free Mom Hugs member Nancy Pagliaro did her part to make everyone feel welcome and valued.

We do it for the children,” Pagliaro said. “Sometimes, they just want a hug or someone to talk to.”      

Pagliaro has worked with the organization Free Mom Hugs for about two years now, striving to create a more sensitive and encouraging environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community in central Ohio. 

When Pagliaro’s daughter came out as trans at 21 years old, Pagliaro and her husband John, who works at Capital University, did everything they could to support her.

“He’s done some things on [Capital’s] campus to promote inclusiveness there as well,” Pagliaro said. “Seeing him do that helped my daughter a lot.”

Though Pride celebrations typically happen during summer, this event began in early October. 

“I think it’s wonderful, and I love that they’re doing this in October,” Pagliaro said. “So many do them in June and you really have to divide your resources.”

The festival began at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, with The People’s Lighting of the Licking County Courthouse, when attendees shined their own flashlights on the building. 

The lighting is significant, organizers said, because Licking County officials have declined requests to light up the courthouse for the celebration. 

“We do this with people-power because our Licking County officials have continued to deny our requests to light the courthouse in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride, even though it is a federally recognized celebration,” Newark Ohio Pride Coalition President Dash Groves said in a news release. “Until they honor our request, we will continue to make ourselves visible.” 

The main event on Saturday saw Canal Market District just south of the courthouse flooded with vendors and patrons, featuring dancers, singers, and speakers. The Pride Coalition began this tradition in 2018, and it has drawn participation from a wide variety of groups, such as the Licking County Coalition for Housing, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and all manner of independent artists. 

“It’s important to express pride when you can in public,” said Rita Kipp of Granville. “I’ve been coming to Pride for several years; this is not my first rodeo. I think it’s great. It’s necessary in this climate.” 

Patty Cakes, who currently holds the title of Ms. Toolbox, performs in venues across Ohio and attended the Newark Pride festival in October. Credit: Noah Fishman

Kipp represented Ohio Democrats at a tent giving out signs to vote on Issue 1. 

“I think it’s great for a town like Newark to have a festival like this to show even small towns have a queer community,” said Cody Snare of Marion, “and that we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Snare has been performing drag under the name Patty Cakes for eight years and performs in shows across Ohio.

Patty can be seen performing at the Toolbox Saloon in Columbus once a month and currently holds the title of Ms. Toolbox.

“I normally perform about six or seven times a month, all over the state of Ohio,” Snare said. “I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and performed at a pageant.”

On top of so many diverse voices, the event was scored by DJ IamUnecc, who kept positive, high-energy songs bumping throughout.

Rita Kipp is a member of The Reporting Project’s community advisory board.

Noah Fishman writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism Program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation.