Huntington's inaugural Pride Festival has been a long time coming.
The Jewel City has made a name for itself as the most LGBTQ-friendly place in the state, earning an "All Star" designation from the Human Rights Campaign with a 95 on its Municipal Equality Index, as The Herald-Dispatch reported in October 2018.
For the past two years, Huntington has celebrated its LGBTQ community with a picnic at Ritter Park sponsored by the Mayor's LGBTQ and Diversity Advisory Committee, but now the city's Pride Month celebration is shaping up as a shindig to be reckoned with.
One of the main people at the helm of what is now a stretch of events more than a week long while also holding the title of president in the newly formed nonprofit organization Huntington Pride is Ally Layman.
The 39-year-old lifelong Huntingtonian said she attended the Mayor's LGBTQ Advisory Committee Picnic and decided she needed to be involved. She felt it was time Huntington had its very own pride festival and she wanted to be a part of making it happen rather than just watching it happen.
Layman, a bartender by trade, will tell you she doesn't necessarily have any special skills to contribute. She is a people person (and a hugger to boot) who can get stuff done and will do anything to make her city a better place for the people who reside in it alongside her.
"This is our community," Layman said. "We're here and we're not going anywhere. I don't want people to feel the need to move to bigger cities like Columbus or Lexington to feel that sense of community. I want them to find it right here in our home. We are a part of the city and we're just here to add some fabulous flowers to the garden."
Why a pride festival? Layman said she hopes people who are against or do not understand will see an environment of love and change their mind.
"We're here to change minds," Layman said. "I want somebody to see what's going on and see the festival and walk into that loving environment."
In addition to her work with Huntington Pride, Layman works with the LGBTQ Advisory Committee on things like the Open To All campaign, which she said draws negative reaction because it is misunderstood.
"A lot of people don't understand that it's not just for the LGBTQ committee - it's no matter race, religion, gender identity, income status - it's for every single person," Layman said. " I feel like people would understand it more if they had been in a situation where they had been looked at differently for how they pray or what they believe or what they look like."
Layman said when she sees the little green sticker on the front of the business, she knows she can comfortably be a patron while holding her partner's hand without worrying about being denied service.
On top of planning Huntington's inaugural 10-day pride celebration, Layman was busy preparing for a celebration of her own - she married her partner of two years, Cheyenne Packer, on Sunday, June 9. Layman said she never thought she would meet someone in Huntington, but she was excited to celebrate their love in her own hometown. Layman said she was initially nervous to navigate the wedding planning process having to tell potential florists, bakers, caterers, photographers and the like that this was, in fact, a lesbian wedding, but she said her city did not disappoint her.
The two are dog moms of Blue, a blue heeler, and Bonnie, a 6-month-old St. Bernard puppy. Their wedding hashtag is #Packman.
"We joke about being Ellen (DeGeneres) and Portia (de Rossi)," Layman said, because the two know everyone and are constantly in the spotlight because of Huntington Pride.
Layman said she thanks Packer for dealing with the stress of planning a wedding and an entire pride festival at the same time.
Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.
NAME: Ally Layman
FAVORITE MOVIE: Star Wars
HOBBIES: Collecting Star Wars memorabilia
PETS: Blue, a blue heeler, and Bonnie, a St. Bernard puppy.