Winchester, Va. is a beautiful town that plays host to one of Navy Federal’s largest campuses. It’s more than that for me, though. It’s a place that I have called home, a place I have invested in and a place that has invested in me. As a member of Navy Federal’s Diversity & Inclusion team, I’m proud to share my story so that others can see that they belong here, too.
Bringing Pride to Life in Winchester
Because of my connection to Winchester, I wanted to bring even more culture and progress to the area in an interactive, open-minded way. This desire was brought to life when my best friend, Georgia, came to me with the idea of starting Winchester Pride.
Pride celebrations take place all over the world. Although pride is felt year-round, these are deliberate celebrations to showcase contributions of LGBTQQIA (often abbreviated to LGBT+ or LGBTQ+) people, be seen and heard, learn new things, educate others, and rally in support of one another. All of these people and ideas already existed in Winchester. Together with Georgia and other friends, we took the steps to make Winchester Pride a reality.
The first Winchester Pride was held in 2018, and we had thousands of attendees. Three years later, I’m the co-creator and a board member of Winchester Pride, helping plan that event and others throughout the year that build and project ideals of inclusivity, diversity, equity and belonging. The success and outpouring of love from that first event helped us go forward into 2019, and now planning for 2021.
Our main event is an all-day celebration that includes drag performances, a pageant, vendors, guest speakers (like local and state politicians, community members, etc.), and a small parade. It’s all held on Winchester’s downtown walking mall, a benefit to the community’s small businesses and restaurants.
Visibility is incredibility important to me. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the event in ways that go beyond planning. I’ve been a professional drag queen for eight years. Performing as Alexa Shontelle, I’m the primary hostess of all Winchester Pride events and the very first Miss Winchester Pride. Drag is a premier art form in the LGBTQ+ community and in pride celebrations across the world. Winchester has graciously embraced not only Winchester Pride, but also the drag performers that come entertain at our events.
My experience with both Winchester Pride and as Alexa is nothing but positive. I have always had a natural inclination to make people feel valued, and creating this event and performing drag is a way I’ve been able to do that. The presence of drag and Winchester Pride amplifies that our community is valid, talented and visible. Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell people who attend drag and Winchester Pride events that I’m thankful and that each of them is a part of Winchester culture as they continuously spread love without boundaries.
Author Bio: Aaron is a six-year employee of NFCU and is currently a Business Operations Specialist in Employee Relations, as well as a Data/Reporting Analyst for our newly formed Diversity & Inclusion initiative. He recently finished his Master’s degree in Industrial & Organizational Psychology, and he lives in Washington, DC with his golden retriever, Aaliyah.