More than 35,000 people celebrated the freedom of sexual preference during the 35th anniversary of Phoenix Pride festival at Steele Indian School Park on Saturday and Sunday with a parade, drinks, live music, leather and spandex swimwear.
The event took six months to plan, five days to set up and required more than 500 volunteers to run it, according to Phoenix Pride Executive Director Justin Owen.
While Owen boasted this is the first year Phoenix Pride implemented a sustainability plan, he also revealed the organization is starting a project to document LGBT history in Arizona and Phoenix.
“We’re working with ASU, NAU, U of A, they’re all coming together to help us document our history here in the community,” he said.
The event allows entrepreneurial artists and businesses as well as awareness and advocacy groups to come together to support the community and raise awareness of current issues, according to Jorge Suárez, a member of Phoenix Pride’s board of directors.
“It’s a total celebration of diversity where everyone comes together to celebrate that,” he said.
Among the attendees was Mr. Gay 2014, Cruz Carter, who placed top 15 of 45 at the national Mr. Gay pageant last November.
“Pride is to be proud of who you are, what you are in a safe environment, in a safe space,” he said. “It’s basically a come as you are ordeal, and we want everybody to bring what they can to the table and show their pride.”
Carter is a program coordinator for One-n-Ten, an LGBT awareness and resource organization, and also works with programs that raise suicide awareness and promote safe drinking within the community.
Another community celebrity in attendance was Miss Gay Pride 2015 Trixxie Deluxxe, who is known for bringing awareness to the Pride Scholarship Fund and promoting “gay pride and diversity throughout the community.”
“[The fund] is to send members of the LGBT community to further their education whether it’s to help them with rent or whatever it is to help them further their education,” she said. “It’s not just for young students, it’s for somebody who’s maybe 30, 40 years old trying to go back to school and better themselves.”
The community has also found support from churches, like the Casa de Cristo church, which has several members and several pastors in the LGBT community.
“The theme of our booth is ‘I am loved’,” said church member Scott Watson. “We’re out here to tell them God loves them no matter who they are and that’s the message that we want to send out to our brothers and sisters in the gay community.”
Watson also said that one of the church’s female pastors married her wife at the church.
Other LGBT members are active in Christian churches, such as Fatema Bernard and her wife.
When Bernard served in the active duty component of the U.S. Air Force, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was in effect and was something she explained as “scary and exhausting.”
“Twenty-four hours a day you have to pretend to be somebody that you’re not, unless you were with close friends who already knew,” she said.
Bernard said that service members were still allowed to attend pride festivals while the policy was in effect because attending did not “prove that you were gay.”
As the festival leaves town on Wednesday, Owen confirmed that the Phoenix Pride Rainbows festival will be October 17 and 18 at Heritage Square Park.