ELYSBURG — A crowd of more than 300 people attended the 25th annual Pride Picnic on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon at Knoebel's Amusement Resort.
"We've been at Knoebel's for 25 years," said organizer Michael Escobar, of Wilkes-Barre. "We're expecting 400 people. It's pot luck. Everyone brings some food."
This is a celebration of our LGBTQ+ community, he said, "and our friends and families. In this area, there is no official pride event other than ours. That is why we continue to have it."
Escobar explained the "plus" at the end of LGBTQ+ means "allies" of the LGBTQ community.
"We are thankful that Knoebels has been gracious and welcoming for us," Escobar continued. "It is just a good community event that we have created here. We get a good group — people that we see once a year, here.
Escobar noted that people from out-of-state come to the picnic.
"We've had people from New York, Ohio, Delaware," he said. "They figure it is a fun event to come to."
The feast was bountiful — tables laden with meats, fruits, vegetables, and pastries. When it was time to eat, hundreds of people lined up in anticipation.
"What I think you see is that this is a truly festive, fun, and family-oriented event," he said. "Just look at all the kids here."
Escobar, however, said he wasn't sure that the LGBTQ+ community has become more accepted in central Pennsylvania. "We are here. And we've been here for 25 years at this event and no one has chased us away yet. We had some problems a couple of years ago with the Family Research Council [a fundamentalist activist group] but we survived that. Like I said this is a gathering. And we get great food."
Helping Escobar organize the event were his partner of 30 years, Mike Batholomew, and Cameron Whitmire — who was showing people who passed by a proclamation by Gov. Tom Wolf recognizing this day of pride.
"I first met Micheal [Escobar] in the 1980s," Whitmire said. "At that time we worked together and ever since I have been helping out with the pride picnic."
Sitting at a table near Escobar was Regina Russell, of Sunbury, president, ACLU Susquehanna Valley chapter.
"We're here to join in the celebration," she said, as people signed up for her email mailing list. "But also we're here to talk to people about civil liberty issues and the things our organization does."
After the feast, which began at 3 p.m., several speakers addressed the crowd, among them lawyer Justin Robinette, an attorney with the Philadelphia law offices of Eric A. Shore, in Philadelphia. Robinette specializes in discrimination and sexual harassment cases, he said.
Robinette said he is seeing "less tolerance of this community, certainly with a Trump administration that we feel is mean spirited. I think that is bringing more bias out of the woodwork, at least in my experience. We're getting a lot of calls, a lot of cases. As for acceptance, we are growing in terms of our local anti-discrimination laws. There are more jurisdictions adding those protections, and in that way, I do see incremental change.
"But I see a lot of bias statewide," he said.