Round Rock resident Richard Parson had a good feeling about Saturday. That sense did not waver, not even when a thunderstorm woke him up at about 4 a.m.
He knew the skies would clear for the city’s inaugural Pride Festival, he said.
“I’m just overwhelmed. I’m overjoyed, excited, and I can’t believe I’m not worrying. Everything’s coming together. It’s going to be beautiful,” Parson said Saturday before the festival started.
Pride Month is held in June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Some of the first Pride parades were held the following year in a few large U.S. cities. Official Pride events in Austin launched in 1990.
But Pride festivals are just now catching on in some surrounding communities. After witnessing community and city leadership support for the inaugural Gay Pride Festival in Taylor last year, Parson decided to organize Round Rock’s own celebration of the LGBTQ community.
He started in August 2021 with “not a dime,” just a dream. The city arts department gave permission to hold the festival outdoors in Centennial Plaza.
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After that, support poured in for the festival. Businesses such as BookPeople, Trader Joe’s, Ikea and Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy were there as vendors, as were community organizations like Equality Texas and Texas Youth Helpline. Entertainers from the area, as well as Houston and San Antonio, donated their time and talent.
“We’ve had to turn away vendors because the plaza is full,” organizer Ben Hilliard said. “So next year, we’ll just have to go bigger. I’m just amazed. I was like, if we have five vendors, I’ll be okay. We have 42.”
Students of all ages showed up; some teens came as part of their school’s gay-straight alliance. Many people donned the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ pride flag to celebrate their identities. T-shirts carried slogans of support and love, such as “Free Mom Hugs” and “Be Yourself.”
“This is history,” Parson said.
Cassandra Johnston, a Round Rock resident since childhood, attended as an ally. She heard about the event through Facebook. Johnston noted that no longer would everyone have to drive south into Austin for its massive Pride Parade and Festival. That event typically is held in August instead of June. (Organizers called it off in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
“It’s kind of a weird time to start, with COVID and everything,” she said early during the Round Rock event, “but I’m glad that they did it. It looks like a really good turnout. It just started, and there’s a ton of people.”
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Krystal Gonzales, also a resident and a member of the LGBTQ community, said she was used to going to other cities to find Pride events. She has been attending Austin Pride for many years. Gonzales didn’t expect to see so many people present at Round Rock’s festival.
“It’s nice to have the allyship here that I didn’t know that we had,” Gonzales said.
American-Statesman and KVUE reporter Tony Plohetski opened the event as MC. The Austin Gay Men’s Chorus followed to kick off an afternoon of performances. The group sang “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.” The festival wrapped up with performances by drag queens.
Attendee Christina Hernandez said she has long been active with the Human Rights Campaign in Austin, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
“It’s nice to see there’s more representation visible not just in Austin, but the surrounding areas, as well,” Hernandez said. “Not just Round Rock today, but Pflugerville is about to have their inaugural Pride, as well. Taylor is about to have its second Pride event this month. So it’s just really nice we’re not just in this cluster in Austin.”
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Leander held its first Pride celebration in May. Bastrop is set for its first Pride event on June 11. The inaugural Pflugerville Pride Festival will happen on June 18. Taylor’s second festival will follow on June 25. This year’s Austin Pride Parade and Festival, the first since the pandemic, is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Contact Nusaiba Mizan at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @nusaiblah.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism