Metro East Pride Fest started with a small group of women who wanted to celebrate diversity with a party and BBQ outside Club Escapade. Metro East Gays and Straights (MEGS) was founded by Janet Brannon, Barbara (Jesse) Arms and Janet Wright. At the first planning meeting for the Pride Party, community support was overwhelming and grew a diverse group of individuals. Metro East’s First Annual PrideFest: Celebrating Diversity and Equality was held on June 21, 2008 on 2nd Street and West Main in Belleville, IL.
Speakers included Mayor Mark Eckert and Lynn Clapp, Human Relations Council. Public officials in attendance included County Board Chairman, Mark Kern; Illinois Representative, Tom Holbrook and Alderman Dorothy Meyer. Other speakers featured Marcelo Tenorio, the first immigrant from Brazil granted amnesty due to sexual orientation and the threat to his safety; Charles May, historian from Springfield, IL; Derek Slay, Vice-President of the Belleville Historical Society; Pastor Dianna Scarlet-Thomas, The Well of Living Waters Ministry and Sherry Haskins. Musical entertainment featuring Summer Osborne, Common Sense Zero, Covering Fire and Kimmy V. was enjoyed by everyone. Several vendors also participated at the festival. Over 600 wristbands were distributed to adults and attendance was estimated at 1,000. The crowd was multi-cultural and included children through senior citizens. The weather was beautiful, with a brief cooling shower early in the day, and there were no incidents throughout the festival.
In 2010, Metro East Pride of Southwestern Illinois, Inc., was incorporated as a 501(c)3 charitable organization with the main purpose of holding an annual Pride Festival. Founding members were: Sarah Baldwin of Shiloh, IL; Colin Murphy of O’Fallon, IL; Courtney Anderson of Millstadt, IL; Chance Baker of Lebanon, IL; and John Kreisel of Belleville, IL.
In celebration of the fifth annual Pride Fest, Metro East Pride of Southwestern Illinois (MEPSI) held its first-ever Pride Glow March on June 15th in historic downtown Belleville, Illinois. Starting from the Belleville Public Library on Washington, the MEPSI Board of Directors, as well as leadership/members of Belleville’s PFLAG chapter marched down Main Street, through the square, and ended at Club Escapade. All in all, there were approximately 50 revelers. Many waived full size rainbow flags as we marched, honks of support from passing motorists were received.
Crystal blue skies ushered in the 5th Annual Metro East Pride event on June 16th. While possibly one of our hottest Pride dates on record at 96 degrees, attendance was estimated at 3,000 patrons throughout the day. Pride goers of all ages browsed some 50 + booths ranging from LGBT organizations and non-profits to religious groups, supportive businesses, as well as food vendors. Dieta Pepsi served as emcee and entertainment included the Gateway Men’s Chorus, The Avery Hill Band, Kristen Goodman, Jen Norman and Summer Osborne. Queen of Metro East Pride was Sierra Mist and King of Metro East Pride was King Jes. At our awards presentation, the 2012 Brenda Grissom and Dixie Ruliffson Community Service Award was presented to Illinois State Representative Greg Harris, and was accepted by Caroline Staerk, Equality Illinois Field Director. The MEPSI Spirit Award was presented to Bobbi Nix. While the festival had to shut down a bit early due to inclement weather – all in all it was deemed a great success.
The 10th Annual Metro East Pride Fest was held on Saturday, June 10, 2017. The headline entertainer was Kristen Merlin, Season 6 The Voice semi-finalist. Entertainment was also provided by Neon Cadillac, Super Fun Yeah Yeah Rocketship, Right Quick, PowerJR76 and Judy McNutt. Collinsville Gay/Straight Alliance hosted the Chase the Rainbow 5K. Award recipients included Chance Balleza who received the Doug Bernier Spirit of Pride Award and Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert who received the Brenda Grissom & Dixie Ruliffson Community Service Award. A new award, Sonny Pitts MEPSI Spirit Award, was added to commemorate longtime LGBT advocate Sonny Pitts. This award was presented to Sonny’s husband Scott Kreher who was an active member of Metro East Pride. Ravyn Winters performed as Queen of Metro East Pride and Justin Thyme as King of Metro East Pride. Many other local drag queens and kings also performed for the crowd of 8,000. The 10th Annual Metro East Pride Fest was made possible due to generous contributions of Club Escapade and Re/Max Preferred/The Buss Team.
Originally from Belleville, I reside in Freeburg. I'm a graduate of Saint Louis University where I earned my BSBA in Finance and an MBA. I own Elser Interactive, a small business specializing in online promotions and marketing services. I've been in business since 2004. Prior to that, I worked for American Redemption Systems and CheckMark Communications/Nestlé Purina PetCare Company where I held various marketing, finance and management positions.
I'm very active in my community including Kiwanis Club of Freeburg Area, Marissa Chamber of Commerce, St. Joseph Catholic Church and Gibault Men’s Club. I'm also active with my alma mater and a member of the Business School Alumni, Billiken Club and DuBourg Society. I got involved with Metro East Pride because I want to give back to the LGBTQ+ community. If I'm able to help one person or make a difference in one person's life, I have done my job.
Hey, it’s Kristen (aka Super K or Johnnie Bravo) and I am excited to be a part of Metro East Pride. I joined the organization in 2016 because I wanted to get more involved in the LGBTQ+ community and make a difference in the lives of young adults. I came out as a lesbian when I was 21 years old and, although I had the support of my family and friends at the time, I realize not all people are as fortunate. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and work diligently to help build a community of diversity, equality and inclusion. I am a District Sales Lead for Frito Lay, a PepsiCo company, and have been with them since 2014. I am an LGBTQ+ representative at Frito Lay.
In my free time I enjoy drinking, holding hands with Whitney and vacationing in Mexico. I usually wait until the third or fourth date before I bring the U-haul. I am a huge sports fan, love the Cardinals and Blues, and my favorite team is the Green Bay Packers – that’s what cheesehead!
Hi! I'm Kim...as a lifelong Belleville resident I'm honored to serve on the Metro East Pride board as and LGBTQ+ Ally. I have been a hairstylist for 30+ years and I also work as a buyers agent for Red Door Realty Group. I enjoy working with people and being part of Metro East Pride allows me to do that for LGBTQIA+ community. Having grown up with close and wonderful friends within the LGBTQ+ community, my hope is that I can help bridge the gap between straight and gay people. I will strive to help make this happen by being an active volunteer and member of the Metro East Pride board. It’s easy to remember me - I’m the Straight Not Narrow Ally!
I'm Andrea, Treasurer of MEPSI. I identify as a straight female and use she/her/hers pronouns. I grew up in Belleville and still live here today. I have Bachelor’s Degrees in both Criminal Justice and Sociology, as well as a law degree from Saint Louis University.
I joined MEPSI so I could be involved in creating a safe and inclusive space in the metro area for LGBTQIA+ and to bring skills and fresh ideas to continue the growth MEPSI has seen in the last few years. I have been an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community as long as I can remember, including delivering a speech in college about the importance of legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. I am very excited to work with the Board in all of our fundraising efforts and, most importantly, Pride, and I encourage everyone to join us whenever they can!
When I'm not volunteering for Metro East Pride or one of the other organizations I'm involved with, you can find me at home enjoying a good movie or napping - my favorite past time. Most people claim I am an 82 year woman in a 27 year old body, which is fine with me! I also like hot dogs and hotties.
D. L. Salisbury
Pride Fest Chairperson
My name is D.L. Salisbury – yes, I go by my initials! My dad is Don, my grandfather was Lee so of course I am "something else!" I serve as the Pride Fest Chairperson and my pronouns are He/Him.
My husband of five years and I have been together since 2007. He is a native of Belleville and graduated from Belleville East. I on the other hand, I'm originally from Houston,Texas where I graduated from South Houston High School and attended San Jacinto College to pursue a degree in Music Education. I ultimately received my Cosmetology license and I have held many career opportunities in that field which then led me to a career in the healthcare industry as a Learning and Development Manager.
I joined Metro East pride in 2018 after seeing the positive impact they were making in and around our community. It's my goal to maintain and enhance that "hometown feel" Metro East Pride is known for as we grow and thrive in our community.
Drew Chase (aka Mona Chase)
Drew Chase has been an advocate for the LGBT community for 15 years. They started a Gay Straight Alliance in high school and have been doing volunteer advocacy work ever since. Drew also performs under the stage name Mona Chase, the self-titled Vocal Vixen of St. Louis, Mona is an eclectic mix of powerhouse live vocal performances, sex and body positivity, and inappropriate jokes, all of which is housed in a deceptively MILF-like fashion style. Drew and Mona both are incredibly excited to be part of the MEPSI Board of Directors and looks forward to many more years of services to the LGBT community in the STL Metro.
I'm Mellissa Brooks, or for those close to me, Mel. I have called Belleville home for the last 19 years along with my husband of 20 years and our two amazing daughters. I am the owner of Bronzed Goddess, a company I started eight years ago offering Airbrush Tanning and Airbrush Makeup services.
I have been an ally in the LGBTQ+ community for as long as I can remember. I have always been a big supporter of MEPSI, but knew it was time to do more. Joining the board in 2019 was the next step for me to become more involved and help grow the cause. It is my hope that through educating and volunteering I can make a positive impact on the community.
I'm Adam Barwick and I am a trans man. Figuring that out about myself did not come quickly or easily. When I was younger being transgender wasn’t heard of or talked about. I knew I was different from all the other girls, but I didn't understand how or why. So, I identified as a lesbian. Life wasn’t an easy road for me and I ended up turning to alcohol and drugs. It wasn’t until I hit hard rock bottom that I finally figured out who or what I was. I found a program that worked for me and it changed my life completely! I was then able to take a hard look at myself and finally put a finger on something that I never thought was there. I was, in fact, a man born into the wrong sex. That's when I began transitioning.
Since that time, I have found much success and happiness in my life. Not only am I able to help others with alcohol and drug addiction, I'm also involved in sharing my story with other trans men like myself, giving advice and encouragement, and being a role model demonstrating that there is hope. I felt like MEPSI was a great fit for me to help others in the community and to be part of something greater than myself and to help show the community that we all can be superheroes and save lives. I've only been involved for a short time, but I have enjoyed getting involved with the board members and others in the community and I look forward to what the future holds.