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John Baker's story: pioneering pride in the Tri-Cities


In 2011, John Baker decided that it was time to give back to the queer community. Baker grew up in England, where every village had its own community center. There, people could come and find groups of others to share their time, art and feelings with. This idea is what led Baker to the idea of creating the Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities. 


“I said, that would be wonderful for us to have a place that they could come through that door and be who they are, and we don’t care, we love you anyway,” said Baker. “It doesn’t make a difference who, what, where you are, you are welcome.” 


Baker officially started the non-profit center in 2012 when he put up his own money to obtain the 501c3 needed.  


Baker has attended several local festivals such as Blue Plum, Little Chicago, and Pride festivals since then to raise money for the cause. In 2019, the Pride Community Center officially found its home in a physical space in downtown Johnson City. After closing for two years due to the COVID pandemic, Baker was able to reopen the center.  


“I was in New York when Stonewall was happening, and I’m still fighting the fight,” Baker told Overlooked. “This is why the community center’s annual Rainbow Pride Festival in Johnson City is held on the last weekend in June every year. It is an homage to the June 28, 1969 anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City that sparked a gay liberation movement.” 


Baker was raised in a religious household in the 1950s and 60s where he was unable to be out regarding his sexuality for most of his life. Still, he made efforts towards the cause in a hushed manner such as writing monthly checks to the Gay Liberation Organization shortly after Stonewall. 


“That’s one thing that I stress here, especially among the young people, is that you need to know your history,” said Baker. You need to know the struggle that we have had.” 


After becoming a single father to a learning-disabled child and working as a designer by trade for several years, Baker decided, “alright, I’ve given the first fifty-two years to everyone else, and now the rest are mine.” 


After he retired and moved to Northeast Tennessee, he says he “felt very strongly that I wasn’t able to publicly support my community until I moved up here. So, I am out and proud.” 


He now works at the Pride Community Center to show the Tri-Cities that the LGBTQ community is simply just people being people, just as he himself has always been.  


The Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities holds several different support and peer groups each week and hosts local events and booths at surrounding festivals. More information can be found at https://pridetricities.com/,information on how to donate to the center and volunteer. Baker aims to continue to be a beacon and source of education for the local community for a long time to come. 

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