Rockton Pride: one year later


Andrew Mertzenich reading Rockton Pride's new charter on July 14, 2023 at Village Green Park in Rockton, IL. Photo: Abby Clarke

Rockton Pride began in June 2023 in response to controversy about a virtual presentation by drag queen Krystal Ball. They held a kick off party at Rockton's Village Green Park on July 14, 2023, celebrating their charter. Soon they became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

Though not every local member in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) community in Rockton feels the group represents them, Rockton Pride was the first such organization in the area.

Rockton Pride marched in the 2023 Rockton Christmas Walk parade, and on June 1 they were one of over 50 participants in the first Rockford Area Pride Parade, helping to kick off Pride Month of 2024. The parade was chaired by Rockford Pride chair and HCHS alumnus Andrew Mertzenich.

On Saturday, June 22, 2024, they are keeping it chill at Rockton's Quiet Pride Picnic. All are invited to join the fun from 12 - 3 p.m. in Hononegah Forest Preserve's Bird Grove Shelter. The event bills itself as "a calmer alternative for Pride," with fun activities, chill vibes, snacks, and a family friendly environment - in nature, with new friends.

On May 31, 2024, Rockton Pride held an event at Roscoe Township Community Center. Speakers who shared their stories were Rockton Pride President Jessica Green, a lifelong Rockton resident, Hononegah alumna, and volunteer, as well as Eden Brown, program support chair of the LIAM Foundation, and Kelsey Hood-Christensen, president and CEO of Rock County's Family Services.

During the Village of Rockton's Main Street Trick or Treat, Rockton Pride teamed up with the Rockton United Methodist Church to hand out candy.

Rockton Pride supports the Yellow Brick Road Organization, Freedom Fest, and The Trevor Project.

The LIAM Foundation (Love, Integrity, Advocacy and Mentorship) in Rockford started in 2015 after Harlem High school student Liam Burdick came out as transgender. He and his mother started a PFLAG Chapter in the Rockford area. The foundation carries on today in loving memory of Liam who passed away from suicide in 2018. The foundation is the Stateline’s first and only LGBTQIA+ resource center.

At the Rockton River Market, Rockton Pride shared booth space with Inkwell Books and Threads.

Inkwell partnered with Rockton Pride to host the Pride in Bloom event last March.

Rockton Pride communicates regularly with the Gay Straight Alliance club at Hononegah Community High School.

Rockton Pride also honors the memory of friends who have passed away. On June 11, they remembered those who lost their lives in a shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

In recent months,Rockton Pride President Jessica Green approached the HCHS Board of Education, asking them to consider placing All Gender signs on the restroom doors in the school.

In late May, Green talked to the Village of Rockton about Rockton businesses hanging Pride flags to recognize Pride Month, which is observed each June.

Rockton Pride is now offering a unique scholarship, generously donated to Rockton Pride by an anonymous donor in hopes of helping individuals in the LGBTQIA community in Winnebago County to further their education.

The group is not looking for the student with the highest academic achievements nor are they looking for students with impressive resumes. Instead the scholarship was established to provide an opportunity for underserved and underrepresented individuals to share their stories and to be awarded funds to use toward their educational future.

This scholarship is open to all ages who are looking to continue their education whether in the trades, graduate school, a four year university, community college or where other opportunities are to learn.

The deadline to fill out and to return the application form is on June 21, 2024 at midnight. Applications must be filled out entirely, with an essay, to be considered. The application asks, "Tell us about yourself and how being apart of the LGBTQIA+ community has led you to where you are today."

The scholarship committee will convene the following week to review applications and to conduct interviews. After interviews have been completed, recipients will be notified. Awards in the amounts of $500-$1,000 will be given based on the applications that are received. A ceremony will be held to present the scholarship checks on July 20. The time and place will be announced closer to the event.

Rockton Pride's privacy policy states: “We understand that many individuals who identify in the LGBTQUI community may not be out to their families, friends or communities. We don't want this to be a barrier to applying for our scholarship. Your story, name, and identity will be kept completely confidential if requested in the application form. Your information will not be shared outside the scholarship committee or with any media outlets. If you are recipient of the scholarship and request confidentiality the funds will be sent as a “Continuing Education Scholarship.”

The application says the purpose of Rockton Pride is to promote the social welfare of individuals identifying as members as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and or queer community and its allies within and around the Rockton Illinois area.

Rockton Pride is firmly dedicated to the principle that all people are entitled to a full and equal measure of dignity, justice, freedom, and opportunity regardless of sexual orientation, sexual identity, race, religion, creed, national origin, ethnic background, age, political persuasion, color, sex, marital status, with regard to public assistance, familial status, health or a disability.

Representatives from Rockton Pride add, “We are excited to be entrusted with this opportunity to give back to our community, and hope to continue this on a yearly basis.”

To apply, follow the links on the Rockton Pride Facebook page for the scholarship cover letter and application.

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