ChesCo Pride returns with tribute to founders

Frank Viera served in the Vietnam War and earned a Purple Heart. His partner, Jeff Rudd, had a reputation for cooking Thanksgiving dinner for anyone who didn’t have it and once helping an older man get his driver’s license.

 

Together, the two opened Frank Jeffrey’s, the only gay bar in Phoenixville while it was open, and started Chester County Pride in 2004. It was considered a bold move at the time. 

“We honor both of these men today for their vision of what we’re celebrating today,” Eileen Salmon, a friend of the couple, said June 4 at the return of Chester County Pride in Reeves Park, just a couple blocks east of Gay Street. Both men have since died. 

Rachel Stevenson, founder of LGBTea Dances in the borough, revived the tradition, which last took place 11 years ago. The Pride was free to attend, but people had made donations throughout the week. 

The organization collected about $40,000 total from gala tickets, silent-auction items, sponsorships, vendor table fees and donations. After paying expenses for Pride weekend, LGBTea Dances walked away with more than $28,000 to put toward programs, services and scholarships.

Dozens of young people attended Pride. Lindsey Fitting and Jordan Mudd, both students at Phoenixville High School, performed the Cyndi Lauper song “True Colors” in tribute to Viera and Rudd; followed by Grant Holcomb, a middle-school student from the Downingtown School District, who sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in an impressive baritone.

“I did come out two months ago, so I thought it would be cool to sing here,” Holcomb said. 

Hannah Morris and Linda Mintzer, students from Owen J. Roberts High School, decided to spend the afternoon in Phoenixville because they had never been to a Pride before. They saw a flier for the event at their school, where they participate in a GSA.

The two had flags with them, one for transgender pride and one for asexual pride. 

“I think it’s a really great turnout,” Morris said.

Phoenixville Mayor Mike Speck took the stage early in the afternoon to accept his grand-marshal title. He anticipates keeping in his office the gold and purple sash that came with the recognition.

“I hope this is going to turn out to be an annual event for us,” Speck said.

He also shared a story that Bill Davidson, a former president of Chester County Pride, told him. Back in 2004, organizers had asked the then-mayor to participate, but he hedged and ultimately declined.

“It was a different time,” Speck said. “Today it’s a new day, a new era. Phoenixville has always been diverse. What we’re doing now is getting everybody to accept the diversity.”

Only about five people stood near the front of the park with anti-LGBT religious literature. Otherwise, a couple-hundred people milled about enjoying the warm, sunny day and the vendors.

Joe Cairo, president of the LGBT Qmunity Center in Montgomery County, said he was hoping to grow awareness for his organization, which is still looking for a permanent home. The center hosted its first gay Bingo fundraiser at the end of April to support the cost of a space.

Although many people from suburban Philadelphia do enjoy the annual trek to the city for its Pride, Cairo said it’s also important for LGBT people to celebrate in their hometowns.

“There are so many of us out here in the ’burbs and we’re like family here,” he said.

Cairo added he would love for Montgomery County to work on developing its own Pride.