For the first time in 36 years, Ohio‘s Columbus Pride Festival and Parade will replace their grand marshal with a float honoring LGBTQ refugees fleeing persecution.
About 15 refugees in total will ride at the front of the parade on Saturday, reports The Columbus Dispatch. They have fled from countries with strict anti-homosexuality laws that can result in lengthy prison sentences or even death, such as Uganda, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Karla Rothan, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the organization that presents the festival, explained that the decision was in response to President Donald Trump‘s travel ban targeting six predominantly Muslim countries.
“The current administration is putting a lot of restrictions on new Americans, and lately, we’re finding it difficult to get LGBTQ Muslims in our center,” she said. “We’re doing this to show that we serve all of the LGBTQ community, and we are denying the current political climate.”
“I think it is really amazing that they (the refugees) will be able to go out and feel welcome,” said Waswa Franco, an employment counselor at Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS). “What happened in their home countries…they were always in fear, and now they will get to stand up and show who they are.”
A pride celebration in Uganda in 2014. This year’s effort was stopped by a government threat and police. Some of the refugees in Columbus are fleeing persecution they faced in Uganda. Rebecca Vassie, AP