La Crosse Pride brings community together

Day two of La Crosse Pride kicked off with a family picnic at Copeland Park,

The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection says many people in the LGBTQ-plus community feel isolated and alone.

Events like today’s picnic not only give people a sense of belonging, but they also show the community as a whole what they can do to make La Crosse a more accepting place.

Lance Helgeson has been a member at 7 Rivers for around five years.

“They love you for who you are. I would not be where I am without the love and support that I have from everybody,” Helgeson said.

Helgeson said he has witnessed discrimination firsthand.

“It feels very hurtful,” Helgeson said.

The most recent instance was when the rainbow and transgender flags were stolen around a month ago from the 7 Rivers building.

“With the flags being stolen, taken down, that just shows, it’s like, wow, people go out of their way to show so much hate,” Helgeson said.

That’s why organizers like Jessica Cook, the vice president of 7 Rivers, said the picnic is so important.

“Events like this show that we’re not scary people that you’re going to be afraid of in some backstreet corner. We are people just like you, just like everybody else, and all we want is to be able to love freely, not be told who we can and can’t love,” Cook said.

Alesha Schandelmeier, the executive director at the 7 Rivers, said they’ll keep putting on events like this to support each other.

“It gives a sense of belonging to people. A lot of times, people in the LGBTQ community are kind of ostracized from their families,” Schandelmeier said.

Eddie Luker, president of 7 Rivers said they’re hoping to gain support from the rest of the community.

“While it’s 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection, we’re open to the entire community. We appreciate our allies who come and support us,” Luker said.

Most importantly, organizers say members of the LGBTQ-plus community just want to be treated like everyone else.

“We’re not perverts, we’re not creeps, we’re not free-love hippies, either. We are responsible people here living, happy healthy lives,” Cook said.

La Crosse Pride events will be happening all week.

More than 1,000 people are expected to participate in the festivities.

Organizers say Fridays “So you think you can drag” competition is one of their most popular events.

All of the remaining events this week are free with the exception of “so you think you can drag” Friday which costs $20.

Organizers say all proceeds will support the 7 rivers .