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STONEWALL 50 YEARS: The conversation now

614now Staff



In 2017, tensions flared revolving Columbus Pride, but it introduced a greater conversation; one involving healthcare barriers, intersectionality and even racial discrimination in the LGBTQ community. Virally known as #BlackPride4, four queer and trans people of color were arrested during the Columbus Pride Parade that year. Misconstrued as an act of resistance, the group formed to protest the rate of trans women of color who were murdered in 2017, along with the indictment of Minneapolis Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez who shot and killed Philando Castile just one year prior. The Black Pride 4 was spat upon and heckled. Soon after the protests, then-Stonewall Columbus Executive Director Karla Rothan retired. 

“Watching everything happen from afar was heartbreaking because I was seeing my community falling apart, and the people I cared about divided against each other,” says Dwayne Steward, Director of Prevention at Equitas Health and mentor to Wriply Bennett, a member of #BlackPride4 who was arrested. “I truly believe Black Pride 4 was the best thing that could’ve happened to Columbus. It forced the LGBTQ community to take a long hard look in the mirror. Because of the truths that have been forced, because of the bravery of the protesters that day, I’m finally seeing the change that many of us have been fighting so long for.”

Robert Podlogar (photo: Brian Kaiser)

Noting that Black Pride 4 brought upon awareness from a community standpoint, Stonewall President of the Board of Trustees Robert Podlogar recounts strategies that came into place following the 2017 Columbus Pride Festival. 

“The organization underwent internal reviews on processes in general to really understand where we would have opportunities for improvement,” he says. “Any time there is an announcement for retirement, it gives you time to step back, really understand where you want the organization to go forward.” 

Now, the recent 10,000-square-foot expansion of Stonewall Columbus’ new community center is a sign of an organization with a new vision, one in which inclusion and its barriers can be addressed.

A member of Stonewall’s Board of Trustees, Drew Moss, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor for Maryhaven treatment center helped open Maryhaven’s Addiction Stabilization Center on South High in 2018. Moss agrees with further pushing efforts to treat those who are queer, transgender and gender non-conforming. 

“The healthcare system as a whole is making better efforts to understand the LGBTQ+ population, to educate providers and try to be more inclusive and think about different ways to engage people. I see a real concerted effort with that, especially in the last ten years, I would say,” Moss says. “We need to find a pathway toward greater visibility for LGBTQ+ people in every industry. I think the more visibility we have, it does begin to change people’s minds and hearts about this issue. Providers of any type of service need to be competent in different engagement strategies.”

Dwayne Steward (photo: Brian Kaiser)


In terms of dedication to creating communities of inclusion, especially for queer people of color, Steward admits that Columbus still has work to do to improve resources. “Currently, I am focused on dedicating my time to breaking down barriers and creating access to healthcare and social services for underserved communities. I’m also very passionate about ending the HIV epidemic that is currently affecting the most marginalized in our communities,” Steward says. 

“We have the tools to end the HIV epidemic once and for all. PrEP (or pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a once-a-day pill you can take to prevent yourself from contracting HIV. If someone who is HIV positive is taking their medications daily, they can reach an undetectable status and are not able to pass the virus to anyone else. If everyone who needed these medications had access to them, we could stop HIV. The only thing keeping us from getting to zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths in Columbus, in Ohio and in this country, is health inequity.”

While fractures may exist in Columbus’ LGBTQ+ community, it is still a community of positive experiences.

“I remember being younger and having people yell out or throw things and essentially harass me on the street and people that I was with for being who we were. That can be very damaging psychologically,” says Moss, who came to Columbus from Lima. “I embraced myself by coming to a community [where] I could see myself in other people and vice versa. I think moving to Columbus was the biggest catalyst in a long journey towards self-acceptance.”

Crediting the Short North and South End for rigorously encouraging acceptance in the LGBTQ+ scene, Podlogar agrees with Moss’ thoughts. “We’re fortunate in Columbus over the past couple years, especially with so many corporations, small businesses [who are] really providing a safe place for the LGBTQI community, for being who we are,” he says. “I am thrilled for the vast amount of acceptance for our community, things I did not feel when I lived here in the early 90s. I am so proud to be able to, in an open work environment, talk about my personal life, my husband, our marriage and the relationship that we have.”

Andrew Moss (photo: Brian Kaiser)

There’s still hope for marginalized communities to make their voices heard during Pride month, especially with the emergence of conversations that bring about opportunities for action and awareness. For Steward, this means adopting alternative safe spaces that aren’t directly involved with Columbus Pride Festival, including healthcare space Mozaic for transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary youth of color along with social and wellness space UNITY, geared towards queer men of color. 

“I was bullied at school for both identities and I was being raised by devout Pentecostal parents and in a church that believed my existence was sinful. It was a long road to acceptance not only for my parents, but for myself,” he says. “When we create spaces for queer people of color where they are able to escape the constant microaggressions and ongoing discrimination they face daily, you’re providing a unique opportunity for someone to fully live in all of their authenticity.”

Moss concurs that Black Pride 4 gave room for discussions to be initiated, even if they are discomforting, as it will allow Columbus’ LGBTQ+ community to prevail equally. “Karla’s decision to retire gives us an opportunity to look at the community through a different lens and to take in some different viewpoints. Any time there’s been a leader at an organization for a long time, it may be challenging to do that. I think it gives us an opportunity to learn a lot from what’s happened,” he says. “I really would love a day where the table belongs to everybody and they know that they can come whenever they need to. That’s my vision and my hope. I’m really proud of the work that Stonewall is doing to create that world.” 

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Swallow your pride, literally, with themed food this month

614now Staff



We never want you to swallow your pride...unless it's food. This year, eateries and drinkeries across the city are showing their pride with new menu items offered this month early. So, get out there and swallow your pride, literally!

Hangover Easy | University District and Olde Towne East

No matter what you call them—flapjacks, hot cakes, pancakes, yummy breakfast circles—HOE's festive menu items will have your tummy celebrating Pride in the most satisfied way possible.

C.Krueger's | 17 Brickel St, Columbus

How sweet are the new Pride cookies at C.Krueger's bake shop?! You'll be the hero of the party when you show up with a box of these cuties before the parade this Saturday.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams | Multiple Locations

n celebration of #PrideMonth, Jeni's is partnering with our favorite drag queen, long-time friend, and fellow ice cream lover Nina West on a very special, very limited flavor in our shops: NINA WEST’S DREAM PUFF.

BrewDog USA | Multiple Locations

This Pride, BrewDog is honoring Nina West with Elevengendary: Tart Wheat Ale with Butterfly Pea Flower. Proceeds benefitting the Nina West Foundation. Available June 14th at all 3 BrewDog bars.

Laughlin's Bakery | 15 E. 2nd Ave, Columbus

Rainbow macarons are back for Pride month!

Daddy Cakes Columbus | Visit online

Place your order now for this magnificent tower of Pride—complete with Funfetti layers!

Plenty O' Cookies | Visit online

This drag queen baker is whipping out the most gorgeous Ohio and Pride-themed cookies! Host a baking party now.
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Meet the Guest Editor: AJ Casey, Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus

614now Staff



Cincinnati native AJ Casey brings over 25 years of experience to her new position as the Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus. This month she let us become part of her busy June preparations to help us shape our Pride cover package and we can’t thank her enough.

What excites you about your new position at Stonewall?

What excites me most is that it truly is a brand-new day at Stonewall Columbus. Not only do we have new leadership, but we have a new building, new board members and limitless new opportunities to engage with the LGBTQ+ family throughout the city and county. We are focused on being a catalyst for positive growth and are adamant in the pursuit of a united and thriving community.

Our new facility offers 15,000 square feet of light-filled space that is just begging for creative new programs and services. We’re partnering with organizations such as Equality Ohio to provide free legal clinics; and North Central Mental Health Services to offer LGBTQ+-friendly counseling. And there is so much more room for creative, engaging programs that I can’t help but be excited about the good that can happen here.

Photo by Brian Kaiser

After 38 years, Stonewall Columbus is still the largest and only LGBTQ+ community center in central Ohio. As we move forward, we are fostering relationships to ensure that everyone in the extended LGBTQ+ family can experience Stonewall Columbus as theircommunity center.

Tell me about the work of your parents and how it has shaped you and your work.

My parents were very active in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother was an organizer and get-out-the-vote activist. My father was an attorney and one of the first African American men to be appointed Assistant US District Attorney during the Kennedy administration. Dad’s career was centered on eliminating discrimination in public schools, police departments and state-run construction projects. My parents taught each of their three children (I’m the middle child) the power of confidence when the world rejects you and the necessity of excellence to forge personal success.

My own work is informed by the ongoing struggle for equality. My life—as black, female and lesbian of a certain age—places me in multiple social, gender and political intersections. The consistent driver throughout my career has been visionary empowerment. I have mastered skills that allow me to help people initiate change in themselves, their organizations and communities. I am a perennial student of this work and I have invested decades in honing my craft.

We’ve seen many steps forward and several steps back in LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights in just the past few years. Where do we go from here?

Within the LGBTQ+ family, progress encourages us and setbacks strengthen our resolve. For example, recently, nearly 100 LGBTQ+ advocates showed up at the Ohio Statehouse for hearings around the proposed Ohio Fairness Act (Senate Bill 11) and hundreds more submitted written testimony in support. The bill, if passed, would add LGBTQ people to the laws which make discrimination illegal.

During the public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one advocate reminded the senators how long people within the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting for this law. “We’ve been showing up for decades in support of these rights,” he said. “And we will keep showing up until we share equally in the rights of all Ohio citizens!” So, if the question is “Where do we go from here?” the answer is an unequivocal we keep showing up until we help create a society, a city, a state where all of us thrive.

While the LGBTQ+ community in Columbus finds strength in being a large community, it is also a community with lines of division. How can we be more intentional about reaching out to and including more people?

We must be intentional about reaching out to and including more people. Period.

At Stonewall, that means that we are deliberate to about diversity and inclusion. We show it at the board level, the staff level, in our volunteer outreach and in our programs & events. We constantly ask ourselves who else we can bring to the table to ensure that our biggest plans are as welcoming and inclusive as possible.

I think that inclusion is about building relationships, not numbering participants. It’s not just about having people of diverse backgrounds or identities in the same space. It’s about how those assembled in that space combine their collective genius to create more powerful outcomes. Inclusion requires us to demonstrate what Dr. King described as “a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

And I also have to quote RuPaul here. At the end of each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ru says “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” I believe that outreach and inclusion therefore require a dedicated practice of building self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-love. These practices have been a part of my personal journey and been prominent in my career. I intend that they will play some part in how we move forward and pursue a heightened sense of unity as an LGBTQ+ family.

You met your partner at Pride. Tell me about how that happened.

Singer/Songwriter Tracy Walker was one of the performers at Columbus Pride in 2016. I didn’t see her perform and hadn’t heard of her except to read her bio in the Pride Guide.

Somehow, we both ended up in the performers’ VIP tent that Friday night. It was already dark outside when we struck up a casual conversation standing in the glow of a string of white lights. Something about the glow around her made her appear angelic to me. Two minutes later, Tracy moved in to stand real close to me. That’s when I knew that this was more than a casual conversation! That was three years ago this Pride. We’ve been standing close in the glow of each other’s light ever since.

That’s the power of Pride. It is the perfect intersection of authentic personality and extended community. At Pride, people can discover themselves, explore new ideas and—sometimes—find true love.

When you’re not an activist/nonprofit leader/director, what can you be found doing? Reading leadership books and books about world religions or philosophy. Traveling to beaches and bask in the sun. Shopping.

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Pride Calendar

Mitch Hooper



Columbus might be viewed as a cornfield in the Midwest to the rest of the world, but what they might not know is we have the third-largest Pride celebration in America, giving major cities like San Francisco and New York a run for their money. In way of celebrating all the city is championing this month, this extended calendar is your guide to Pride with art exhibits, parades, festivals, and so much more for you to sink your teeth in.

Pride At The Wexner Center For The Arts

The Wexner Center For The Arts will be featuring two artists whose work touches on LGBTQ+ lives. Starting June 1 until September, Alicia McCarthy: No Straight Lines will be on showcase where her abstract takes on punk and queer subcultures is highlighted through various styles of media such as graffiti and found or recycled items. Additionally, Barbara Hammer’s work will also be on display with Sensual Bodies on June 13 which features her experimental abilities. Just a short week later, another variety of Hammer’s work, Political Bodies, will be shown. Of the different works in the 100-minute video compilation is Would You Like To Meet Your Neighbor?—an exploration through hidden queer histories.

Loud and Proud Tour – Columbus 2019 Pride After Party
June 13 @ TRISM

Even before parade festivities kick off on Pride weekend, you can get the party started at one of campus’ most popular event spaces for a party raging from 9 p.m. Thursday night to 2 a.m. Friday morning. Join hosts Karin and Skyler and hit the dance floor for an LGBTQ+ DJ lineup that includes Kandy, Cristy Lawrence and Skyler Madison. Tickets are just $10, so get yours quick.

Photo by freemind-production for Shutterstock.

Columbus Pride Tea Dance
June 14 @ BrewDog in Franklinton

What other Pride event offers the opportunity to bump shoulders with a Grey’s Anatomy star? Join the hit show’s Ohio-born Jake Borelli on the breathtaking rooftop bar at Brewdog’s Franklinton location for drinks and dancing. The Tea Dance is a reference to secret afternoon speakeasy meetups among the LGBTQ+ community in the 1950s and 1960s, but make no mistake, this event is all about letting your pride be seen and heard from the highest reaches of downtown.

Unity Ball
June 15 @ Axis

At Axis’s 18th annual Unity Ball, you can have a blast celebrating Pride without feeling guilty about the money you blew through when you wake up hungover. The last 17 years of the event have raised over $1 million for local charities and LGBTQ+ civic groups. The $20 tickets also include admission to Dragapalooza, making this one of the hottest tickets in town over Pride weekend.

Columbus Pride Brunch 
June 16 @ Greater Columbus Convention Center

We know you’ll be getting hammered for Pride weekend, so why not start your Sunday recovery by getting some quality food in your system. Brunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Convention Center while Andrew Levitt, aka Nina West, will be honored. Levitt, a Columbus-native, placed sixth on season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. What better way to wind down Pride than a hearty meal and the chance to meet a local celeb? •

Photo by aceshot1 for Shutterstock.

Pride Throughout The City

Of course, the big celebration that rivals NYC is Stonewall’s Parade on June 15 which steps off at Poplar Ave. and High St. Furthermore, you can join in on the fun on June 14 and 15 with Stonewall’s Pride Festival at Bicentennial and Genoa Park. But what’s a party without an afterparty? The official after-party for both days of Pride this year is hosted at Ms. Vikki’s Restaurant & Banquet Hall. There are VIP tickets available which secure you a table, allow you to skip the lines, and receive complimentary drinks for the night. However, Stonewall isn’t your only chance to celebrate Pride in Columbus. Community Pride will be hosting a variety of events such as a Spoken Word and Live Arts and Performances event at The Vanderelli Room on June 4. The schedule slate for Community Pride also includes a Queer Club Night on June 7 and a Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion on June 11. For more details about Community Pride’s events, speakers, and locations, stay tuned to their website at

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