‘Coming out to the county’: LGBT of Walworth County plans first Pride Fair

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, August 13, 2017

ELKHORNJody Rendall remembers a time when she felt alone.

She was unhappy living as a man, but she kept that information from her friends.

“I was not happy the way I was,” Rendall said. “I felt isolated.”

Resources for her as a transgender woman were limited in Walworth County, she said.

So in 2011 she started LGBT of Walworth County, a group originally designed to aggregate resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Since then, it has expanded and serves other functions.

Part of that expansion are plans for the county's first Pride Fair, which will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce building, 203 E. Walworth St.

“Our Pride Fair is our own way of coming out to the county,” Rendall said. “Basically, we want to help the community see that we're a part of it.”

Rendall remembers the lack of social support and other resources that she experienced. She remembers traveling to larger cities for medical services and seeking advice from online chat rooms.

“That's no way to live your life,” she said. “I have lived here most of my adult life, and the services (in Walworth County) are so lacking.”

Rendall hopes people who experience those same feelings will take advantage of the social aspects of the group and the fair.

LGBT of Walworth County and Pride Fair both aim to provide a community for people who identify as LGBT, but the fair is open to anyone who wants to attend.

Rendall's broader goal is to show all Walworth County residents that they have more in common with one another than they might think.

“Living in this area for the longest time—and it's still like this—it's a lot of 'don't ask, don't tell,'” she said. “We are here. We are who we are. And we just want to be part of the community.

“We have the same issues as everybody else does in this area in terms of paying taxes, trying to find a job, trying to support a family, trying to be healthy.”

Rendall said she also wants to educate the community about LGBT issues.

When she mentions she is the director of an LGBT group, some people ask, “Which one are you?”

The problem with phrasing a question that way is that gender identity, gender expression and sexuality do not exist in a binary—either-or—fashion, Rendall said. Rather, they are on a spectrum.

The group has support—as of now, about 30 booths are planned for Pride Fair—but it has seen some resistance, Rendall said. Some businesses chose not to allow LGBT of Walworth County put up posters.

Part of the reason for Pride Fair, Rendall said, is to help the community become more comfortable with the LGBT community.

Eventually, she wants to organize a parade similar to those in larger cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago.

“We're going to ease into it. We want people to get to know us first,” she said. “We're not just going to hit people over the head with everything at once.”

An important early step, Rendall said, is the socializing that will happen at Pride Fair, which will benefit both people who are unfamiliar with the LGBT community and those who feel isolated in the county.

The transgender community knows that feeling. Rendall said calls into suicide hotlines are at a peak.

“I know what that's like,” she said. “You have questions about yourself. You feel alone. You don't know where to turn.

“So if they can see other people like themselves, and they can see that they're not alone, it helps them see that there's a future, really. There is something out there for them.”

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