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NEPA GAYLA brings disco fever to WB

By Hannah Simerson,

Alison Strelecki, left, Quedia Harris and Kala Samuels, of Wilkes-Barre, pose for a photo before heading into the ballroom during Saturday night’s 4th annual NEPA GAYLA at Genetti’s in Wilkes-Barre. Hannah Simerson | Times Leader

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WILKES-BARRE — It’s like the Met Gala, but in Downtown Wilkes-Barre.

That’s how folks described Saturday night’s 4th annual NEPA GAYLA, and the glitter, sparkles and extravagant outfits found on nearly every attendee sure did give the Met a run for its money.

The event, which was held at Genetti’s, attracted over 600 people — and tickets sold out in under five hours.

“All people from any walks of life — especially the LGBTQIA+ community — are here and it’s really just a big party,” said Martha Zabriski, co-founder and co-chair of the NEPA Pride Project.

The event is held each year to both bring people together in the spirit of open celebration and to raise funds for the Arts in Action Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a local high school senior entering college who plans to pursue studies in any aspect of the arts.

“Everything all goes back to the scholarship fund and supporting local arts,” said Justin Correll, co-founder and co-chair of the NEPA Pride Project.

According to Correll, the event started as a way to honor how he and Zabriski met. The pair met in 1994 during a children’s choir at Wilkes University, and the arts have been at the forefront of their friendship ever since.

“For our 25th anniversary, we decided everyone has baby showers and homecomings and all of this, but we’re going to do something to celebrate how we met, and it has turned into — words can’t even describe it,” he said while motioning around the ballroom bustling with activity.

This year’s theme, Satur-Gay Night Fever, featured plenty of peace signs, flared pants, flowers and more.

In between dancing and drag performances, attendees were able to get in on the fun with even more sparkles at the “Glam Station,” which offered those willing to donate towards the scholarship fund the opportunity for added hair gems, face shimmer and glitter hairspray.

‘I wish we could have gotten here earlier’

For GAYLA attendees Courtney Brenner, Danielle Bosco, Kevin Whelley and Katie Moran, the event was about more than just the dancing and sparkles — it offered a sense of community that hasn’t always been so apparent.

“For me, part of this is personal,” said Kevin Whelley, who sits on the board of directors for the NEPA Pride Coalition.

His father was an attorney in the area before he passed over 30 years ago, and Whelley says that Saturday’s event is something that never could have happened in his lifetime.

“This event would not have happened when he was around, and it means so much to me to know that I’m here tonight in Downtown Wilkes-Barre where he practiced and this was not something that was available to him,” Whelley said.

“I think, for me, it’s being with great people but also just kind of honoring what he wasn’t able to be a part of, and looking around thinking, ‘thank god everyone here can,’” he added.

Although he is happy that the event is a possibility in today’s world, Whelley wishes that celebrations like this one could have come sooner for earlier generations.

“For me, it’s a little bit of a step back like, ‘this is fantastic’, but also ‘I wish we could have gotten here earlier.’ Thirty years ago, this would have had to happen in the dark,” Whelley said.

And for Courtney Brenner, who also sits on the board of directors for the NEPA Pride Coalition, Whelley hit the nail on the head.

“It’s not just the LGBTQIA+ community, but also the entire community here — there’s allies, friends and families all on top of our precious community,” Brenner said.

“I just love the camaraderie that everybody feels at an event like this. You can be yourself and what more could you want?”

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