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Pride marches through downtown Wilkes-Barre for the first time

A parade participant waves a Pride flag in downtown Wilkes-Barre
Sarah Scinto
WVIA Photo
A parade participant waves a Pride flag in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

In cars and trucks, on bicycles, skateboards and roller skates, and all draped in rainbow flags, hundreds marched through downtown Wilkes-Barre on Sunday for the city’s first Pride Parade.

On Public Square, where the Parade route ended, the festivities continued at Pride Fest 2022, the NEPA Rainbow Alliance’s final Pride event for the month of June.

“It truly is a remarkable day,” said Justin Correll, chair of the Rainbow Alliance board of directors. “This has been a very, very long process coming out of COVID and being virtual for two years. We wanted to come back with a bang, and I think we did it.”

Correll and other Rainbow Alliance members, like board member Holly Pilcavage, ushered the parade participants to the square, directing traffic with paper rainbow fans.

 “I personally cried four times just during the parade,” Pilcavage said. “Literally hundreds of people stayed on Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre to enjoy the vendors, enjoy all the performances and spend the day with us.”

WBPride 2
Sarah Scinto
A group marches in the Wilkes-Barre Pride parade.

Pride is a celebration, but many of those who spoke to kick off the day, including Wilkes-Barre City council member Tony Brooks, felt fear and anger after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

"I am crying inside for my sisters and my mother and my grandmother in the work that they did 50 years ago," Brooks said. "What just happened is appalling."

A concurring opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, in which Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggests the overturning of abortion access granted by Roe v. Wade should prompt the Court to reconsider the decision that legalized same sex marriage nationwide, at times tinged the celebratory atmosphere.

Brooks and his husband were the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Luzerne County, Correll noted when introducing the council member. He spoke on the bandshell stage alongside his husband.

"The Supreme Court of the United States will never tell me that I cannot love this man," he said.

Rights under threat?

Sara Rose is deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. She said Thomas’s opinion, while not surprising, is indicative of the feelings of the Supreme Court’s majority.

"It's this idea that because these rights were not recognized at the time when the 14th amendment was adopted in 1868, that we cannot recognize them now," she said. "At least under the Constitution."

She said the majority of the court have stated this decision will not affect prior decisions like same sex marriage or even Griswold v. Connecticut, which protects access to contraceptives - another case Thomas’s opinion mentions.

But the dissenting minority on the court warn the reasoning used to overturn Roe v. Wade makes those rulings vulnerable.

"It's like we have a Jenga tower, and all of these rights are built on top of one another, and when you remove one block, the whole thing comes tumbling down," Rose said. "It sets the stage for those rights that had been recognized in the last half century to be chipped away at if not destroyed altogether."

Kit Kinports, a professor of law at Penn State University, said Thomas spoke only for himself in his concurring opinion, but pointed toward Justice Samuel Alito's dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges. The ruling in that case led to legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

She called Alito's dissent in that case a "blueprint" for the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson. It reasoned that because same-sex marriage is not mentioned in the constitution, it is not a "deeply rooted" right eligible for protection under the Due Process Clause.

"I think it's fair to say that at least Justices Alito and Thomas would vote to overturn Obergefell," Kinports said.

Celebrating progress

On Public Square, the crowd focused on celebrating Pride and the visibility of the city’s first parade. They wandered rows of vendors and pitched picnics in the shade, while Pride flags waved in a relieving breeze for the hot June day.

Rose Daniels of Wilkes-Barre made herself easy to spot throughout the day on Public Square - she zipped about on rollerblades while wearing a golden Wonder Woman costume with wings.

"I wanted to represent the strength that women have, especially in these times where the government thinks they can tell us what to do with our bodies," she said.  "I wanted to make a statement. We are wonderful and you cannot control us."

Rose Daniels
Sarah Scinto
Rose Daniels displays the name of her business on Public Square during PrideFest.

Daniels represented her business, Breakout Art Movement, in the parade.

"Pride is about celebrating how I love, who I love and where I love, which is right here in Wilkes-Barre," she said. "I wanted to come out here and really celebrate and be with my people."

Trixy Valentine was one of the final performers of the day, lip syncing and dancing to “This is Me,” from The Greatest Showman. As an LGBTQ organizer in Berwick, Valentine applauded the Rainbow Alliance and the ability to have a Pride parade in Wilkes-Barre for the first time.

"I'm also here to recognize the people who lost their lives for us to get the rights that we have now and to get where we are today," Valentine said. "To be able to be on the Public Square in Wilkes Barre for the first time with this many people."

Correll said the Rainbow Alliance will be closely watching what happens next in the Supreme Court and will continue its ongoing advocacy work.

"And most importantly, truly... represent a community that has been under-represented for a very long time," he said.

For Pilcavage, the events on people's minds served as proof of PrideFest's importance.

"This is going to become an annual thing," she said.