Queer-Friendly Events to Plan Your Trip Around
The heart of Kentucky’s culture has always revolved around horses and bourbon. But it’s the state’s natural beauty, its local art, and its inclusive hospitality that makes it one of America’s best kept secrets. Well, it’s time to let the secret out!
When we’re not at the race track or throwing back Blanton’s, we’re out hiking in one of our many state parks, grooving at a music festival, or digging into world-class dining.
And while Louisville and Lexington have long been established as LGBTQ+ havens, the rest of the state has begun to become more welcoming for queer people, hosting unique, can’t-miss festivals that celebrate food, fun, and the LGBTQ+ community!
Below are ten favorite festivals to check out for your next vacation in Kentucky!
Kentuckiana Pride/Louisville Pride, Louisville
Did you know Louisville has not one, but two Pride festivals?!
Kentuckiana Pride has been going strong every June since 2001. Each year, Pride is kicked off with the Pride parade, followed by two days of concerts and fun on the Big Four Lawn on the scenic Ohio River. While not explicitly adult-oriented in theme, this Pride has more of the hard-partying vibe.
Louisville Pride — which started in 2015 — created an event that was even more community-oriented in theme. Held each September on the city’s artsy Bardstown Road, it’s an event where family, friends and allies come together for a day-long street fair with food, booths, and concerts celebrating diversity and inclusion.
How to stay safe: Both Prides in Louisville have a very welcoming, safe feel to them. You’ll see people of all ages, races, colors, abilities, genders, and orientations (and in every kind of outfit!) Both events also have dedicated security.
Tips! Louisville has no lack of LGBTQ+--friendly and owned businesses. The 21c Museum Hotel is a great place to crash if you enjoy excellent dining and want to be close to a 24-hour museum. After your Pride Shenanigans, check out a drag show at Play Louisville, or grab a drink at Chill Bar or Big Bar (more LGBTQ+ bars here).
Cinema Systers Film Festival, Paducah
The charming little town of Paducah, along the Ohio river, is home to the only all-lesbian film festival in the USA. You better get it, Kentucky! The Cinema Systers Film Festival is a four-day long event in May showcasing the best and brightest lesbian filmmakers. The festival also includes workshops, soirees, and an art show. It’s a place to get inspired.
How to stay safe: While Paducah has a small-town vibe, it is a UNESCO Creative City, so it’s used to artists and freethinkers. They also have a Fairness Ordinance to protect LGBTQ+ people.
Tips! While Paducah may not be dripping with queer pride, they do have their very own LGBT Welcome Center. On the artistic side, the National Quilt Museum features some serious works of art—not your grandma’s quilts!—and there is also a plethora of antique stores around town. The Cinema Systers Film Festival also has some hotels they suggest for your stay.
Forecastle Festival combines music, art, and activism into one unforgettable weekend over several stages. When you aren’t rocking out to your favorite band, you can get lost in the (sometimes enormous) art installations, groove out at a silent disco, and learn about the good work going on in the community.
How to be safe: The festival atmosphere at Forecastle leads to unlimited self-expression, so no need to censor yourself here! Everyone is welcomed!
Tips! After the shows, head downtown to Tryangles for a drink. 21c Museum Hotel is a great place to crash, but any hotel in downtown Louisville will be welcoming and accommodating.
Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Bardstown
Kentucky is world famous for its bourbon. So famous, that bourbon is only “true bourbon” if it’s made in Kentucky. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival ® is Kentucky’s love of bourbon culminating into one weekend long bash, where you can taste bourbons from every major distillery, rock out to live music, and learn what goes into making your favorite bourbons. It’s no wonder Bill Murray showed up to the festival in 2016!
How to be safe: While Bardstown has no specific Fairness ordinance, it’s close enough to Louisville (about 45-minutes) to have a more progressive feel than some of the other spots in the state. Bourbon brings people together, and most major labels are supporters of Pride during June.
Tips! To complete your on-theme Bardstown visit, stay at the gay-owned Bourbon Manor in downtown Bardstown, a charming respite that’s perfect for a romantic getaway.
MainStrasse Village Oktoberfest, Covington
If one thing seems to bring all people together, it’s beer, good company, and maybe a polka or two. The three-day-long Oktoberfest takes place in the 19th-century German neighborhood MainStrasse Village. You'll feel the German fantasy as you drink beer and eat bratwurst with a picturesque Gothic German clocktower in the background. Besides beer, there is also art to peruse, and you’re certain to make new friends quickly and shout Pröst all evening long.
How to stay safe: Covington is right across the river from Cincinnati and has more of a metropolitan feel than a small-town vibe. While Oktoberfest celebrations tend to have more of a straight, white, male vibe, you are certain to not be the only queer person there!
Tips! May I suggest some rainbow lederhosen? If that’s not an option, head to Rosie’s Bar or Bar 32 after your beer drinking for a nightcap (just remember, beer before liquor…) Or try The Cellar Bar for a drag show. For a luxurious hotel experience, check out the unparalleled Hotel Covington for some serious R&R.
Kentucky Derby, Louisville
Ah, the granddaddy of all Kentucky events! On the first Saturday of May, the entire city of Louisville waits with bated breath for the Kentucky Derby®. The city stretches this iconic two-minute race into a two-week party with the Kentucky Derby Festival, featuring more than 70 events leading up to the big race and attracting thousands of visitors. The Kentucky Derby itself sees the big celebs, the locals, and the tourists all huddled together in Churchill Downs. Fix yourself a Mint Julep, bet on your favorite horse, and cheer your lungs!
How to be safe: The Kentucky Derby is one of the most high-profile international events of the year. Security is tight. Dressing to express yourself is part of the culture, too. After all, if Derby hats aren’t a form of drag, I don’t know what is!
Tips! There is no shortage of parties during Derby season. Your best bet for a queer-oriented horse-themed bash is at Play Louisville, Chill Bar, or Big Bar. For a place to crash that is new and luxurious, check out The Grady Hotel downtown.
Kentucky Black Pride Festival, Lexington
In September, Kentucky Black Pride occurs in Lexington, celebrating the intersections of Blackness and LGBTQ+ identities. The event — started in 2016 in Woodland Park — features live music, drag shows, vendors, and a whole lot of Pride! Celebrating queer black excellence is so important in Kentucky — the message is needed more than ever.
How to stay safe: This event celebrates queer black excellence and cultural diversity. You can come as you are! And Lexington is known for having some out and proud people like Sweet Evening Breeze and Jim Gray.
Mountain Laurel Festival, Pineville
The Mountain Laurel Festival sounds like something straight out of a fairytale. Each year, since 1931, colleges and universities from all over Kentucky pick one female representative to attend the festival, where they perform an elaborate 15-second curtsey in front of the governor during a ceremony, who then chooses a winner. Besides the glamorous pageantry, the festival hosts live music and vendors.
How to stay safe: Pineville is no gay haven, so it may be best to leave the pageantry to the contestants and let them be the show. Come for the charm and storybook environs. Perfect for a low-key, long weekend with your significant other.
Railbird Festival, Lexington
Call it the Coachella of Kentucky! Railbird is Lexington’s answer to an incredible music festival. Taking place at Keeneland, the city’s premier racing track, you can take in the Kentucky horse and bourbon vibe while experiencing your favorite bands on three stages!
How to stay safe: Lexington is diverse, progressive, and queer. You’re at a music festival; be you!
Tips! After the shows, head to the aforementioned LGBTQ+ bars like Crossings,
Soundbar, and The Bar Complex. For southern charm and comfort, stay at the Lyndon House B&B.
Humana Festival of New American Plays, Louisville
The Humana Festival of New American Plays has been going strong since 1977. Each year, new and established playwrights present both short and long award-winning plays (usually around ten in total), many of which deal with otherness and what it means to be an outsider. There’s no lack of queer content here! These plays are done right too — full sets, costumes, and professional actors.
How to stay safe: Actors Theatre, where the festival takes place, is a very inclusive space. Theatre tries to touch on the human condition, so be yourself!
Tips! You can walk to Actors Theatre from both 21c Museum Hotel and The Grady Hotel. For a downtown gay bar, check out Tryangles.
Written by Richie Goff
March 31, 2022