Jennifer Tyrrell cried and embraced her partner of more than five years as an ordained minister concluded a marriage ceremony for them and six other couples who were clustered around a stage at Toledo Pride on Saturday.
The Bridgeport, Ohio, resident wore a tan Boy Scout uniform to the ceremony as a sign of defiance against the organization that ousted her from her position as den mother simply for being lesbian.
Photo gallery: Toledo Pride Parade
Pride weekend kicked off Friday night with a 5K run around the University of Toledo campus. Honking cars and hordes of people paraded through the downtown Toledo's streets Saturday afternoon and gathered in Levis Square for food and music. Local political and religious organizations set up tents and gave out flyers, and the AIDS resource center ARC Ohio provided free confidential HIV testing.
Lexi Staples, owner of Outskirts, who organized Toledo Pride, estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people attended Saturday's event.
"This is my second pride event ever. People used to say I was a bad gay person. … I've never been very political," said Ms. Tyrrell, who was grand marshal for the third annual Toledo Pride parade along with Mayor Mike Bell.
But that changed when she encountered legal obstacles against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
"When I was dismissed from the Boy Scouts, I was devastated. I felt like someone punched me in the gut," she said.
Her experience has made her an unlikely activist, and her petition to the Boy Scouts of America on change.org has garnered more than 300,000 signatures.
"A lot of people don't know all the things that gay people can't do legally," she said, noting that she describes herself as a stay-at-home mom for her four children although she has no legal claims to them because she is not related to them by blood and cannot marry their mother.
"I can't even legally take them to the emergency room," she said.
"Once people are educated about things, they tend to be more accepting. They need to see that we're just normal like everyone else," she said.
Not everyone at the event supported the cause. Mark Hanson, who was wearing a leather jacket emblazoned with "Jesus saves from Hell," shouted through a megaphone for passers-by to repent.
He and a small group followed the parade and briefly stood outside Levis Square, bearing signs with quotes from Scripture, a poster depicting anguished souls burning in hell, and a sign with the words, "Your behavior is a gross abomination."
"We're here because you never know who might be looking for the truth," said Keith Young. "We want people to be saved."
Tequila Mockingbird, a towering drag queen wearing a sheer white sequined dress and a voluminous black-and-pink wig adorned with a silver crown, was not swayed.
"They told me I was going to experience the fiery depths of hell, and I told them I hoped it was as hot as I am," she said. "We're here to make our presence known. It's 2012. I'm not going to hide in the closet. I'm going to be out in the streets. It's empowering to do this."
Nearby in a cordoned-off area, the couples from the commitment ceremony enjoyed celebratory cake and champagne.
Crowded around a table with their family members were Jaime Long, who had dressed in a floor-length white gown and a birdcage veil for the occasion, and her partner, Leigh Hesselbart, who was wearing a black suit and a hot-pink tie.
"Five years ago, this would never have happened," said Ms. Long, gesturing around her to the tents and throngs of brightly dressed parade-goers.
"The tides are turning and it's getting better and better."
Sherry Tripepi, executive director of Equality Toledo, lauded Toledo's work and housing anti-discrimination ordinances and benefits for domestic partners of city employees.
"But if you leave our city limits, you're at risk of being fired from your job or being kicked out of a movie theater just for being gay," she said.
Still, she's hopeful about the future. "We're seeing lots of progress," she said.
Contact Sophie Broach at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6210.