Going home for Pride: how a small Missouri town celebrated its first Pride event

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration


Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann; Rodney Wilson

I never thought I'd see the day when my hometown would host a Pride event. But on June 8th, 2024… Potosi will do exactly that.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Rodney Wilson

I thought my friend Chris Owens, a hometown friend, had been bamboozled. After seeing his Facebook post, I couldn't imagine our tiny hometown of just over 2500 was going to do anything like this.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Rodney Wilson

Nestled in rural southeast Missouri, at the foothills of the Ozarks, a county that voted in an overwhelming majority for Trump in 2020 was not planning anything Pride related.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Rodney Wilson

Fifty-five years after Stonewall, Potosi, for the first time ever, was acknowledging Pride.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann

There would be no mayoral proclamation, city council statement of LGBTQ support, flag-raising, or key to the city. But someone living there—brave, bold, and forward-thinking—was sending a message that it was time for the city to do something.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

That someone is Hillary Hermann. Pride in the Park was her idea.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann

Her wife, Becky Hermann, a former teacher at the town's sole elementary school, and Hillary's ex-husband, Andrew Eye, a lifelong Potosi resident and current candidate for Missouri House District 144, also liked the idea.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann

This trio, owners of the town's only bookstore/coffee shop, were on the path to making town history at the Potosi City Park.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

I drove familiar country roads back to Potosi four decades after those carefree days. And for the first time in many years, I turned left at the park entrance I cherished as a child.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

Pride in the Park was slated for Pavilion 3 at the northeast corner.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

A religious group caught wind of queers in the park, and about two dozen of them reserved Pavilion 2, which everyone had to drive or walk by to reach Pavilion 3.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

The women at that pavilion wore long dresses with "unshorn" hair, reminding me of the Pentecostal women I grew up with. They and the children were under the pavilion's shade. The men, of course, were running the show.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann

The windshields of half a dozen pickup trucks bore conservative-evangelical messages like "JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!!!"; "Perversion is NOT FAMILY FRIENDLY"; and, in rainbow colors, "Need A Real Change? Try Jesus!"

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Chris Owens

A preacher brought a sound system to project his declarations about sin and destruction across the soccer field that separates the two pavilions.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

Two men walked to the entrance of Pavilion 3, hoisting handmade signs. I briefly and peacefully chatted with both sets of protesters, who were surprised I could out-quote them on scripture, but most attendees rightly ignored them.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Chris Owens

The religious protesters could easily be ignored.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

My mother warned against the protesters and doubted the event's attendance. "There won't be many there, and they'll all be from St. Louis—the ones who moved away," she remarked.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

Some outsiders attended, including myself and a friend who brought the event to my attention. But most of the 200 were from around Potosi.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and everyone enjoyed the six-hour event.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Andrew Young

Several local groups were represented at the event, from political associations to the memorial hospital groups to an Episcopal church in the nearby town 30 minutes north. Chris, my friend who shared the post on social media, drove 500 miles with Dan, his partner, from their home in Columbus to be there. Their friend Liz, who flew in from Ohio, joined in as we sat beneath giant shade trees and talked.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Rodney Wilson

Sharing so much small-town familiarity, Chris and I did most of the chatting. His oldest brother Robbie was a big part of that conversation. Robbie was a childhood friend of mine, a next-door neighbor for a few years when we were children growing up on Mineral Street. Like Chris and me, Robbie was gay. Also like Chris and me, he left Potosi as soon after high school graduation as he could. A singer and dancer and actor, he lived in St. Louis and Chicago, trying to make it in entertainment.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Chris Owens


Sadly, none of it was to be. Robbie was among the early ones to be infected with HIV. In October 1987, at 25 years old, he died. His body was brought home to Potosi for burial. He didn’t live to see the advances in HIV treatment and in LGBTQ rights and he wasn’t there to know that his hometown, where his mother still lives, finally celebrated Pride. But on June 8 he was with his brother in spirit and Chris bought a small Pride flag from one of the vendors.

Before returning to Columbus, Chris stopped by the cemetery where Robbie rested and planted a rainbow flag beside Robbie's headstone.

Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration
Potosi Missouri midwest small town first LGBTQ pride celebration

Hillary Hermann; Rodney Wilson

Going home for Pride: how a amall Missouri town celebrated its first Pride event

Arranged for Pride.com by Nikki Aye

Rodney Wilson was born and raised in Potosi, Missouri. After graduating from high school, he lived in Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, Missouri, and for many years in Massachusetts. He returned to a neighboring Missouri county in 2011 and teaches American history and world religions at the region's community college. He is the founder of LGBTQ+ History Month. A documentary short about his experiences as a high school teacher in the 1990s is called Taboo Teaching and is available here.

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