Many cities across Texas and the U.S. celebrated the LGBTQ community during Pride Month in June. But in Abilene, the town’s first ever full-scale pride event just happened over the weekend. More than 1,800 people showed up, Saturday, according to The Abilene Pride Alliance.
When Elizabeth Collier heard Abilene was hosting a big pride event, they immediately called to ask off work, “I wanted to see who would show up and show out. I know we live in West Texas, but it’s good to see this many people here.”
Collier grew up here, and says it means a lot, “[It]Shows that I’m safe in a town that I previously, when I was younger, didn’t know I was safe in.”
The event was something Abilene’s LGBTQ+ community spent years working towards.
“I don’t know that anyone really knew that this would happen someday,” Scottie Shelton is associate pastor at the Exodus Metropolitan Community Church, the oldest LGBTQ run organization in Abilene. Saturday’s event was originally scheduled for last year, but COVID delayed it. “Today we’re going to step out into the streets, and we’re going to have a parade of our people with all our colors. It’s a proud moment,” Shelton said.
For Shelton, her church, marching alongside 25 other Abilene LGBTQ+ and affirming groups, is a “pinch-me” moment.
At events like this in years past, participants were restricted to walking on sidewalks. This year saw a full parade through the streets of downtown Abilene, followed by a festival with vendors, free admission to the Abilene Zoo, and an age-inclusive drag show.
But a few protesters showed up, including David Grisham from Lubbock, with For God and Country Ministries. He says they came to proselytize in Abilene, “It’s not going to stop with some mild festival or parade, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
This year has seen an uptick in religious and conservative organizations protesting pride events across the county, including Texas, at times bringing weapons or threatening violence. In Idaho in June more than 30 white nationalists were arrested for allegedly planning to riot at a pride event.
To keep event goers safe, the Abilene Pride Alliance issued a non-engagement policy, asking members of the community to not interact with counter-protesters, something the Abilene Police Department helped to enforce.
For parents Farzaneh and Luke Stone, bringing their 10 and 2-year-old Saturday was essential. Especially, they say, since they noticed their oldest daughter repeating anti-gay rhetoric she heard at school, “So we decided to take a more active role, and let her see it in person, for her own eyes and make her own decisions. And that’s why we wanted to come.”
The Stones say they want their kids to grow up to be open and accepting, “It’s important that they see there’s lots of different kinds of people out there, and there’s nothing wrong with being different, so they accept everybody.”
Before Saturday’s events, APA communications chair Blaine Beyer told me the goal of Saturday’s events was to make people feel seen, “If at the very end of the festival, only one person felt seen, felt safe, felt loved, felt included, that’s the goal.”
And judging by the masses of people dancing, singing and smiling, it would seem as if the APA accomplished just that.
Emily Osborn is a college student at Abilene Christian University. They marched in the parade with ACU’s LGBTQ+ student group, Voice. “To me, it means that I have a place to be here in Abilene, and that I have support when I need it,” Osborn said.
“People have come up to me today, several times, and said ‘I now feel like I can live my authentic self’,“ said Reverend Margaret Warn Walker, treasurer of APA. “And a couple of people have said ‘This saved my life, I thought I was alone’.”
Walker says that if Abilene wants to see growth, there has to be more demonstrations of acceptance for all people no matter their race, gender or sexuality. She said she felt like Saturday’s pride festival was a step in that direction.