GENEVA – About 30 people assembled Aug. 9 at the pride-painted fire hydrant at Kirk Road and East State Street to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
They brought flags and some homemade signs, and most wore rainbow or affirming T-shirts. Drivers in cars and trucks honked their support as they passed by.
The hydrant, which has been vandalized numerous times, was repainted in pride colors after each incident.
Terri Helfers, who organized the rally, said it was important to show community members – and students – that they have support.
“The hatred and vandalism should not be tolerated here,” Helfers said.
“I have lived not far from here for the last 21 years. This is my neighborhood,” Helfers said. “As a parent, a community member and a sponsor of Geneva High School Sexuality and Gender Alliance, this vandalism and similar hatred hits way too close to home for me.”
Helfers said she was proud to live in a community that has stood up to stop that kind of behavior.
“I am happy to tell my students and my own kids that this community and its leadership are here to protect them,” Helfers said.
She thanked Geneva police for its investigation, which led to an arrest in connection with the defacement of the pride-painted hydrant, which is now also called the “pridrant.”
Helfers said when artist Chrissy Swanson painted the hydrant in pride and transgender colors, “she did not expect to become a warrior for us all – and she is.”
“Thank you for repainting pridrant so many times,” Helfers said to Swanson. “Hopefully, not again.”
Kylie Peters, a co-founder of Fox Valley Pride, said she spoke as a Geneva resident “and a member of the queer community.”
“We are here today because someone thought they could erase us. I have news for them: We are not going anywhere,” Peters said.
“We are here to tell the world that it’s pitiful, that this person or the people who threw a tantrum over our colors and thought they could hurt us with a little paint and petty vandalism – they have no place here. We are here to make a statement: We belong.”
Peters said when the city approved Swanson’s design in its Art on Fire program, when she first painted the hydrant and when she repainted the hydrant, those actions all made the statement of belonging.
“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it,” Peters said. “And to those vandals and any others that would follow in their footsteps, understand the futility of their protestations against our right to be fully ourselves – our proud selves.”
Fox Valley Pride is making a pledge to donate to the Trevor Project if the hydrant is defaced again, she said.
The Trevor Project provides crisis counseling for LGBTQ+ youth.
“As many times as it takes for them to realize their hate is nothing but a weak cry for attention, lost in the roar of our love for ourselves and for one another,” Peters said.
Geneva High School sophomore Lily McConnell, 15, created a design for the pride hydrant, which was made into buttons. Peters said she was selling them for donations to the Trevor Project.
“I heard they were looking for someone to make T-shirts,” Lily said. “And I’m like, ‘I can draw a fire hydrant.’ Why not?”
Lily’s father, Joseph, who attended the gathering with his daughter, said he was proud “of her, her art, her expression” and of everyone there.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, who has condemned the repeated defacement, and 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra also attended.
“I’m here to support my friends in the LGBTQ+ community,” Burns said. “And I stand with them always, just like I stand with them today.”
Caleb Anderson of Geneva said he came to the rally “because there is no excuse for what’s happening – by this fire hydrant or the community.”
“It’s funny because the entire purpose of the LGBTQ community is about inclusion,” Anderson said. “And we include everybody … so when there’s a situation like this, it not only laughs in the face of the community itself, but in the concept of inclusion, which would include them. It’s important that we take a stand on this sort of thing and we come out and we show [that] we’re not going to back down.”
Anderson said as the group was gathering, many drivers in cars that drove past honked their support, proving to him that only a small number of people “have hate in their heart to do something that, quite frankly, doesn’t take a lot of courage to do.”
Batavia resident Joey Ruddy said he wanted to take part “in showing hate has no home here.”
“My partner and I, we’ve been together about a year. And the growing boldness and confidence of those who hate people like me and him and people that are trans and lesbian and queer and all these things, it’s gotten to be a frightening thing,” Ruddy said.
“I would much rather be doing something like this than stand around saying we have to try to see things from the other side,” Ruddy said. “You can’t be a spectator. You have to show up. You have to be part of the change if you want to see it happen.”
Apathy combined with anti-LGBTQ+ boldness has made the world “a very frightening place,” Ruddy said.
“You can’t really stand back,” Ruddy said. “You never really could.”