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    Brazoria County’s LGBTQ+ community creates safe space with second annual pride festival

    By Monique Welch,

    2024-06-04

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2HetUd_0tffGWjS00

    Growing up in the Angleton area, Salina Nichols never imagined a day in which Brazoria County, a historically conservative area, would have a pride celebration.

    “I grew up in this area, and we never had anything inclusive like this,” said Nichols, who attended Brazoria County Pride’s inaugural celebration last year and returned this year as a vendor showcasing her company, Bottom of the Map Reptiles. “It was hard growing up in Brazoria County.”

    The area has evolved and is becoming more diverse now, she said, making her confident that Brazoria County Pride is here to stay.

    Hundreds made their way to Lake Jackson’s A.A. MacLean Park Saturday despite the unpredictable cloudy, rainy weather to kick off Pride month at Brazoria County Pride’s second annual celebration. Vendors sold everything from jewelry to pride souvenirs. Nichols exhibited her reptiles. Despite having to brace their tents against rain and wind, vendors packed the patio just outside the pavilion.

    The family-friendly event also had a youth hall for kids to make bracelets and color pride flags, as well as jump around on a bounce house or run around the playground. Performances from prominent Houston-area drag queens, Dessie Love Blake, Chevelle Brooks and Kalani Ross Kahlo got the crowd dancing and singing along to music from pop artists Pink, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Selena, and Ariana Grande.

    Although it’s officially Brazoria County Pride’s second year, the word is still getting out with many first learning of it this year.

    “I’m impressed. I didn’t think it was such a community out here,” said Joe Rios, a representative with Access Care of Coastal Texas, a nonprofit that had a table at the celebration where they provided free HIV and syphilis testing.

    He traveled from Galveston to attend the celebration with his family and his 5-year old granddaughter, who enjoyed playing in the bounce house and was captivated by a performance from Kahlo as the late Tejano singer Selena. Rios loved how family-friendly it was.

    “The vibes are great, people are smiling,” said first-time attendee Brad Durant, who came with his two sons. “I wish they did this more than once a year.”

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0EuOPc_0tffGWjS00
    Dessie Love Blake performs as Taylor Swift during Brazoria County Pride at A.A. MacLean Park while attendees give out money tips on Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Lake Jackson. (Joseph Bui for Houston Landing)

    Need for visibility

    “Visibility is super important,” said Jessica Truscott, executive and operations director of Brazoria County Pride. “That’s why we do this. Because we need to show that there’s a queer community in Brazoria County.”

    As she monitored the youth hall, volunteer Shawna Damiani marveled at everything she witnessed: different generations celebrating, parents supporting their teens, families crafting artwork together, and an overall safe space for youth to simply be themselves.

    “I want more safe spaces for kids,” she said. “I want little kids to grow up without this stigma attached to it. I didn’t come out until four years ago. I grew up without visibility, without permission, without a place of safety and it took me a long time to feel okay with who I am, and what that means, and who I love and how I live my life. So that’s really, really important for us to be able to set that path for our children.”

    That safe space and visibility in Brazoria County is what inspired founders like Kris McGarvey and others to support LGBTQ+ youth who struggled to connect to the community in Lake Jackson. While employed at Dow Chemical, McGarvey and other LGBTQ employees secured a grant from the company’s “All In ERG” fund, which provides up to $200,000 in seed grants annually to support inclusion programming started by employee resource groups.

    Under the unofficial name, Brazoria County Pride for Youth, they held two meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled momentum in 2020, McGarvey said.

    They reconvened in the spring of 2022 with the intent to support LGBTQ+ youth in Texas, who are at an increased risk of suicide, anxiety and depression, according to a study from The Trevor Project . Although they still had money in the bank from the grant, organizers still started hosting small community picnic gatherings with roughly 75 people and coffee socials before jumping into a big festival.

    “In order to be a sustainable organization, we really needed to kind of put (ourselves) out there a little bit, but then come back and say, ‘What does the community want? How are we going to serve the community’s needs?’ Not just the organization’s needs,” Truscott said.

    But it would soon blossom into a large festival and shift from just serving youth to serving the entire community.

    “We realized that the entire community needed something,” said board member Jack Johll. “They needed to see adults that were out and proud and not in the closet, who were not ashamed to be who they were. And you just weren’t seeing that in Brazoria County because the community didn’t feel like they could be out and visible.”

    With help from the Montrose Center’s Incubator program, which stewarded its grant, the group obtained its nonprofit status last summer under Brazoria County Pride and held its first pride celebration in June of last year, welcoming more than 500 people.

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2wMZTF_0tffGWjS00
    On the right, President of Houston Gaymers Jeffery Huynh dances with attendees of Brazoria County Pride at A.A. MacLean Park on Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Lake Jackson. (Joseph Bui for Houston Landing)

    But the historic moment was interrupted by counter protesters, who surrounded the pavillion holding signs that read “Pride Kills,” according to a blog post on Medium , on the heels of a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures last year, including more than 20 percent in Texas . Unphased by the counter protestors, attendees responded by coming together and forming a wall of pride flags that served as a barrier of protection, separating attendees from the protesters, Truscott said.

    “We became stronger together in light of that,” she said. “Our community members held up flags for hours. They took care of each other, they swapped out with one another, they brought water to each other, they checked in on each other.”

    Although the community banded together, Truscott said some expressed in a community survey that the protesters made them feel uncomfortable. As a result, organizers implemented some changes this year, such as having a staff presence beginning in the parking lot so that the crew would be visible at the beginning of an attendee’s experience.

    That experience would serve as the impetus for this year’s theme: stronger together.

    Second-time attendees noticed the difference.

    “It feels more like community, and it feels safer,” said Myrin Mitchell.

    Safety is one of the reasons that Angleton, Texas, resident and first-time attendee, Danny Lechuga, has avoided attending any pride celebrations.

    But he was pleasantly surprised by how calm and kid-friendly Brazoria County Pride was. Now, he’s looking forward to coming back.

    “I like it here,” Lechuga said. “It’s a lot more relaxed, a lot more family-friendly. It feels more open and welcoming.”

    Organizers are determined to keep it family-centric and free so it’s accessible for all regardless of how big the festival gets. That’s why the organization has a frugal approach, Truscott said, and maintains a conservative operating budget around the cost of a small wedding.

    “We’re not out to stockpile a bunch of money and give a bigger and bigger party every year,” Johll said. “We like having this family-oriented festival that’s low-key.”

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