Deerfield Pride festival seeks to break misconceptions about what it means to be LGBTQ+

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Playchella, a LGBTQ+ festival, held its first event July 10 in Deerfield. One of the activities during the day was a kids crafts and face and body paint at City Park.

Deerfield now has an annual Pride event. 

Brett Crandall hosted Playchella, a  family-friendly LGBTQIA+ festival, on July 10. 

This was the first year of Playchella, but Crandall hosted a small event run by him and Jonathon Rodriguez, in Deerfield in 2020. 

"We put out a table and some interesting facts about Kansas, but I wouldn't call it an event, it was more of a two people deciding to make a sign, but this was more of an organized event (this year)," he said. 

Playchella is based off of an event, with the same name, that Crandall hosted in 2019 in Brooklyn, New York on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which he said was one of the first events that propelled the conversation of having Pride annually.

Crandall said he figured if he could put on a Pride event in New York he could do it in his hometown.

"There was of course some doubt in me, some maybe internalized homophobic tendencies to not act up or not shake the system or make people feel uncomfortable out here," he said. "But I just kept thinking that if I could make that happen on this larger scale in Brooklyn, I can definitely make it happen in my local city park."

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A day of marches, art, dancing and more

The festival had a march in the morning at Boy Scout Park escorted by the Kearny County Sheriff's Department, discussions on health and wellness and spirituality, an art show, artist panel, art vendors, puppet show, a dance party, kids crafts and face and body paint, fashion show, cornhole tournament, concessions, and farmer's market.

Crandall said he wanted to create a space for people to come together, especially for young queer people. 

Erwin Vides, left, and Brett Crandall discuss spirituality and queerness during a panel discussion July 10 in Deerfield.

"I think one of the best things about the whole day was seeing the young folks all making new friends with other people that either dressed differently or presented differently or identified differently," he said. "There was a place for them to come together and feel the same and not just different. It was a wonderful time."

The march was Crandall's favorite part of the festival.

"There were some folks on the sidewalks taking pictures and cheering us on and one of those teenagers who was presenting pretty non-binary and in their Pride shirt, was jumping up and down to the point where they leapt into the parade and they just joined the march," he said. "That was the highlight of the day, seeing these young people be excited about who they are and not beaten down or beaten out of them like it has been for generations."

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Promoting LGBTQ+ awareness

One of Crandall's goals with Playchella is to create more awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and battling the old "gripes people have against someone coming out or thinking of it as a lifestyle," or that they "decide" to be gay or transgender and getting people to embrace it.

"Switching a lot of those misconceptions about queerness, that it's a sin, that it's damning, that is is not good for the family unit," he said. "Popping a lot of those bubbles I think will continue to bring awareness to our cause, that we're here and we're a wonderful part of the community to have."

Crandall is a native of Deerfield. At 18 he moved to New York to attend acting school, he returned to Deerfield just before the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to return to New York this fall.

His first summer after moving to New York, Crandall, a gay man, attended his first Pride event and said he felt such a release of shame, that he didn't have to feel embarrassed about being gay and he didn't have to be quiet about it anymore. 

Crandall hopes Playchella in Deerfield can give members of the LGBTQ+ community the same feeling of relief, belonging and love.

"My hope is that folks can start doing that here and they can start asking themselves those questions here or have that feeling of love or care and visibility right when they go to the park in their hometown or open their newspaper and see rainbows everywhere and know that they don't have to move away," he said.

It was daunting to decide to put on, because in a larger city like New York there's a degree of anonymity, but in a small town like Deerfield there's not, Crandall said. Despite this, he's happy he put on the festival and that people have been kind and accepting.

"I think it's a testament to how polite Kansas folks are, that when it comes down to it, I think they like to accept their neighbor like anyone else would, like they would hope someone accepts them," he said. "I guess Deerfield can be the testament to that, at least for this past weekend and I'm so proud of that, I'm so proud of my little hometown."

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A mother's support

Cindy Crandall, Brett Crandall's mother, helped organize the festival this year and was excited by the turnout and is proud of her son for being determined to host the festival.

"I was excited that he is determined to let the LGBTQ community in southwest Kansas know that there is support for them, especially for the youth in this area that don't think that they have anybody to talk to about this," she said. "I think it was just such an exciting event with a lot of different kind of activities that entire families could participate in from the art show to kids and adults making art, the puppet shows and music and then just anybody either the LGBTQ participants and their families being able to walk in the Pride march."

Cindy Crandall hopes her son's message gets across, especially to the youth. 

"It's all about people loving each other no matter where they come from, what backgrounds they have, LGBTQ, race, it doesn't matter," she said. "We all should just love each other and be kind to each other. It was such a loving event that I hope that it will continue yearly.