Preston Broyles said his father thinks Satan controls him.

His twin sister thinks he betrayed her.

And until he changed high schools, everyone, even his guidance counselor, insisted on referring to him as a girl even though they knew he had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and identified as a boy.

On Saturday, Broyles, 18, arrived at Akrons inaugural Pride festival with pink, white and blue stripes painted neatly across his face.

I didnt want anyone to think I was a lesbian, Broyles said, running a hand across his crew cut. Im transgender.

Much of his life in Akron has been hard. Last year, Broyles started a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/prestons-top-surgery) hoping to raise $5,000 to escape my female body with surgery. So far, no one has contributed.

But Saturday at Hardesty Park, with another sister at his side and his mom soon to arrive, Broyles found community.

Akron has hosted gay events before, but nothing so large or organized.



About 600 people signed up for the equality march that started in Highland Square on Saturday and ended 1.5 miles to the west at the park. Hardesty Park was rimmed on the north side by large city trucks to prevent anyone from ramming through the crowd with a vehicle which happened in Charlottesville, Va., this month when a white supremacist from Ohio rammed his vehicle into a group of protesters, killing one and seriously injuring others.

Organizers expected 5,000 to 10,000 people to mingle amid food trucks, merchants and more than a half-dozen churches that set up booths.

Denise Ratchford, 71, and her wife, Sandy Wellington, 56, were working at the Fairlawn-West United Church of Christ.

Thats my favorite saying, Ratchford said, pointing to a sign hanging across the back of the tent. It read: Jesus didnt reject people. Neither do we.

Ratchford and Wellington have been together 16 years and, for most of that time, they attended another church that never quite fit.

But when gay marriage became legal in Ohio and they started scoping churches for the ceremony, they found Fairlawn-West, where they said the congregation is made up of people from the LGBTQ community and straight people who love and respect them.

Both gays and straights were at the booth Saturday.

Being gay here just isnt an issue, said Ratchford, who is now married to Wellington. And having a church is a life-saver.

Many others at Pride on Saturday told stories of both love and rejection.

Amy Campbell of Akron and Kjell Warner of suburban Pittsburgh arrived early because Campbell had never been to a gay pride celebration.

Campbell, 27, came out as a lesbian in December. Her parents, who live steps from Hardesty Park, havent accepted it, she said, but she hopes they will.

Campbell and Warner, 26, share a passion for mythic creatures and began dating late last year.

Six months later, as they stood under the watchful red eyes of the metal Mothman Statue in Point Pleasant, W.Va. the fabled, winged creature some locals insist roam that area Warner bent on one knee and proposed.

The ring I ordered didnt arrive, Warner said.

I didnt care. I didnt hesitate, Campbell said. I said yes.

Warner is making plans to move to Akron.

The large and organized gay community in Pittsburgh, she said, can sometimes feel intimidating.

Akron has more of a small-town feel, she said, glancing around Akron Pride, This feels more like youre at home.

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.