Photos adorn the inside wall of a wooden terrace, held up by pins and strings amid the inconsistent sprinkle of rain. Next to the occasional photo are stories. Some of the stories show hurt, others relief and still others show loss and fear. Among these stories is a common theme: coming true to oneself and to those around you.
The second ever event Equality Clarksville has organized, the Coming Out Picnic, took place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Billy Dunlop Park. In lieu of National Coming Out Day on Wednesday, Oct. 11, Equality Clarksville hosted the picnic to provide a space of community support and encouragement.
Jaydianne Damiani, chair of the organization, said she wanted this picnic to provide members of the LGBTQ+ community to come out in a safe and supportive environment, while also allowing those not in the community to announce themselves as allies.
“This is a chance for the community to offer love and support, far from hate,” Damiani said.
Equality Clarksville is not even a year old, forming as an official Clarksville organization late March, early April. The first event they held was a vigil in remembrance of the victims of Orlando’s Pulse shooting last semester.
During the picnic, various local organizations set up tables to showcase their services to visitors. The Human Rights Campaign and Clarksville Indivisible were among these tables. The picnic also offered free HIV testing.
Lisa Eckman, secretary of Equality Clarksville and the person behind the story wall, said the project was meant to emulate the Humans of New York Facebook page.
“We come out all the time,” Eckman said. “Everyone’s stories are different.”
Of the dozen or more stories on the wall of the terrace, some of them included pictures of the person coming out, and others did not. While the stories held a common theme of self-ownership and coming out to friends or family, Eckman spoke on the uniqueness of everyone’s individual story.
“Everyone has different labels for what they call themselves,” she said. “Some people talk about coming out to their friends or partners, while others talk about their experiences with their family.”
The main event featured a stage on which participants could talk about their experiences within the LGBTQ+ community. Some entertained the crowd with songs, while others expressed support for their friends or family within the community.
To continue promoting National Coming Out Day, Equality Clarksville plans on inviting people to comment on their Facebook Wednesday, further encouraging solidarity with members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other organizations like the Tennessee Equality Project.
Damiani said she started Equality Clarksville after having to drive an hour to and from Nashville to attend their LGBTQ+ events, in support of her family and others in the Clarksville area, and she said this picnic was one step in continuing this idea.
Equality Clarksville is planning more events in the near future, including a pride march in the summer or fall of 2018.
Damiani said she hopes the march will evolve into a festival if enough people are on board.
“This is the best group of friends I have ever had,” she said.