Alea McHatten (she/they)

Returning to the roots of Pride was an overarching theme at Ex Fabula’s recent EXperience. The first time I learned the history of Pride month was when I listened to an interview with Sylvia Rivera on the Making Gay History podcast, a trans activist who participated in the Stonewall protests. As a gay history nerd, I just couldn’t get enough of this incredibly rich history that had never been taught to me in any other setting. In the LGBT+ community, we have always had to seek out our community, our culture, and our history. Rarely has it been provided to us in a way that is easily accessible until recent times with social media, but even now, many people across the country are doing everything they can to silence our stories, attack our community, and ban our culture.

That is why creating spaces for queer stories to be told and celebrated is more critical than ever. The EXperience: Pride created that space on June 7th at Freight 38. This intimate event was a combination of storytelling, a panel discussion, and interactive art-making that all reflected on the night’s theme of “Pride.”

Alea McHatten, Ex Fabula’s Program Director, brought together a panel of three queer activists who shared their experiences finding and fostering community in Wisconsin. JJ Draper, Ex Fabula’s Youth Engagement Specialist and co-founder of the Butterfly Collective, a social outreach platform to uplift and financially support black and brown trans folks, discussed the importance of understanding the reason Pride marches started in the first place. Pride Month (as we know it) started with the Stonewall Uprising, and the first Pride marches commemorated that protest and pushed for expanded rights and protections for LGBT+ communities. JJ reminded us that we should be using Pride as time to reflect on how the generations who came before us fought for our rights and how we need to continue that fight in today’s society.

The other panelists, Jaxon Asher Seeger and Johanna Nevin, echoed this sentiment. Jaxon spoke of their work organizing Wausau Pride and Wausau Transfam Alliance and how fighting to create those spaces, especially in conservative areas, is extremely important. Johanna spoke about the work they do as a white trans person to check their own and other people’s privileges in these spaces. And this isn’t just about “calling in” straight individuals. Many white, cis-gendered, LGBT+ folks have historically caused harm within this community, and it’s important for us all to recognize the privileges we carry and the potential harm we could cause.

After our panel concluded, it was time for the audience to show their Pride! Audience members were asked to create a Pride flag representing what is important to them. The finished products were wonderfully unique and extremely creative. Check out some of these masterpieces!

Finally, at the end of the night, we had time for audience stories! Our three audience tellers were: Catie Petralia, Mattew Kerr, and Jody Hirsh. Jody’s story was especially interesting to me because of the way it connected the history of the LGBT+ community with our current times. Jody told a story about his time living in San Francisco during the AIDS pandemic. In his words, the recent COVID pandemic was “not my first rodeo.” He remembers how scared and confused everyone was and how the deaths seemed to grow exponentially. He is so proud of how far we have come but points out that we still have so much fighting to do.

Thank you to the panelists, storytellers, volunteers, Freight 38 staff, and everyone who joined us for this special event. We hope to see you at our next summer event, AfterDark: For the Culture, at Radio Milwaukee on July 14th! Get your tickets here.