Ryan Fischer/The Herald-Dispatch The third annual Huntington Pride Picnic takes place on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at Ritter Park in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Members of the Huntington area LGBTQ community and their allies came to Ritter Park on Saturday for the city of Huntington's third annual Pride Picnic.

The inaugural picnic in 2017 was a potluck affair where 200 people showed up, identifying the need for a celebration of the LGBTQ community. It was the only official Pride Month celebration in Huntington at the time, and it kick-started the creation of Huntington Pride, which will throw its first Pride Festival on Saturday, June 29.

Picnickers were treated to a cookout-style buffet of barbecue sandwiches, where Mayor Steve Williams greeted every attendee who got in line.

Erin Adkins, 39, and Bryan Adkins, 43, said they came to support their LGBTQ+ family members and the Huntington Pride initiative.

"We wanted to make sure (to attend), not just as allies of the LGBTQ+ community but also to support those family members," Erin Adkins said. "We're super pleased with the turnout. There's a lot of people here."

"There's lots of love all around," Bryan Adkins said. "Everybody's giving each other hugs, strangers, everybody talking to each other. It's bringing each other together."

Several vendors, nonprofit organizations and church groups had booths set up to show their support and offer resources, and one budding group, Love Can Build a Bridge, set up a booth to give out free mom (and dad) hugs. Mom and hugger Michelle Perry said they were "huggin' all day."

Perry said the Facebook group was started by Amy Thiessen, and this is its first outing. The group is there to offer support to LGBTQ people who may not have the support of their parents.

"We actually had one young lady come up to us today who's not out with her family yet, so we gave her lots of hugs and encouragement and told her, depending on how that goes, we're here for you no matter what if they need us," Perry said. "Even if they have supportive family members, we're here for support as well."

Misti Belville, another mom and hugger, said the group had been well received by everyone at the picnic.

"Everyone is very happy to see us and eager to interact," Belville said. "They've been as warm as we have."

The group will also have a free hugs booth set up at the Huntington Pride Festival. To join the group, find "Love Can Build a Bridge (WV)" on Facebook. The group hopes to establish a PFLAG chapter in Huntington, a group that calls itself "the extended family of the LGBTQ community" that is made up of "LGBTQ individuals, family members and allies."

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.

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