COVID-19 Canceled Most Gay Pride Events. This Couple Created Their Own.
Charity Roel and Jennifer Lanzendorf of Spring Green hosted the Gay Pride Paddle on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Saturday. (Photo provided)

First Gay Pride Paddle held on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. 

Charity Roel and Jennifer Lanzendorf have been together for 10 years. This year, because of COVID-19, the gay pride events they usually attend in the month of June were canceled for health and safety reasons.

But one day out on a paddle on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, they hatched an idea to celebrate in a way that would allow for social distancing while also bringing people together. 

On Saturday, their idea for the Gay Pride Paddle came to life. 

Charity Roel and her wife came up with the idea for the first Gay Pride Paddle in Spring Green. (Photo © Lola Abu Shawareb)

Roughly 40 participants —decked out in rainbow tutus, small gay pride flags stuck in their hats, leis around their necks, and rainbow-striped koozies to hold their drinks — set out in canoes and kayaks from the Highway 14 boat landing in Spring Green about 40 miles west of Madison and made their way to Peck’s Landing.

“We love to paddle on the Wisconsin River, and the other Pride events that we would normally participate in are cancelled due to COVID-19,” Roel said. “We thought a Pride paddle would be a great way to get people out on the river and to celebrate Pride while maintaining social distancing to keep everyone safe”

FLO the paddlefish, the official mascot of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board, led the way for roughly 40 paddlers who participated in the Gay Pride Paddle Saturday in Spring Green. (Photo © Lola Abu Shawareb)

Lanzendorf is a board member of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board, a conservation group that promotes riverway safety and maintaining the natural beauty of the 92-mile-long section of the river from Sauk Prairie to the Mississippi River. 

When her fellow board members learned of the idea, they helped obtain canoes for participants and also spread the word.

Lanzendorf said the couple, who has been married for four years, was grateful for the help from board president Timm Zumm and the other members who helped make the event a success. They had expected to be joined only by a few friends. 

Participants in the first Gay Pride Paddle make their way down the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Saturday. (Photo © Lola Abu Shawareb)

“It started out as an idea to celebrate with just a few friends but when we opened it up to everyone we were really pleased with the positive response,” Lanzendorf said. “It far exceeded our expectations.”

The Gay Pride Paddle took place one day before the 51st anniversary of the start of the infamous Stonewall riots which began on June 28, 1969, when police raided a bar in Greenwich Village  in New York City. 

A series of violent protests ensued for the next several days, sparking what would become the start of the gay pride movement and a push for equal rights. 

Based on the participation and support they received, Roel and Lanzendorf are ready to make the paddle an annual event. 

“Look for us to do this paddle again in 2021,” Roel said.