In the midst of a crowd decked out in rainbow beads and facepaint, drag queens in enormous wigs and eyelashes danced around on floats while others took a more solemn approach to NWA Pride.
Fifteen years after the first pride parade in Northwest Arkansas, the march down Dickson Street on June 15 had thousands of participants and spectators and featured floats from local businesses and churches.
In surprise attendance at the parade was Shangela Laquifa Wadley, a reality star famous for her appearances on Rupaul’s Drag Race and its spinoffs.
I’ve gotta say ... Pride celebrations around the world are so amazing and wonderful ... and those in smaller towns have a special place in my heart. Being from a small town, I know it’s not always easy to stand tall when ur against the majority, but keep doing it! It means A LOT!— Shangela (@itsSHANGELA) June 15, 2019
The acceptance junior Kai Maurice has felt from Fayetteville and the UofA toward LGBTQ people has made her much more comfortable in her own skin, she said. Maurice is an officer for the PRIDE Registered Student Organization and has been a member since her freshman year.
“It was an amazing experience, just getting to allow myself to be part of that community and that family, and watching other people come into it too and realizing that their identities are valid,” Maurice said.
Karen McClard, a member of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, marched in the parade, holding a sign covered in glitter that offered “free mom hugs” and “free grandma hugs” to participants who might have been rejected by their families. McClard was moved by her encounters with participants, she said.
“Some people have said to me, ‘my grandma doesn’t love me,’ some people have been sobbing.” McClard said. “It’s just been an outpouring of love.”
Drag queens from across the state as well as Shanel Sterling, Miss Gay Oklahoma America, joined local queens in the parade.
Maddy Morphosis, a local drag queen, spent the parade performing on the Faulkner Performing Arts Center float. Wearing a curly blonde wig and a flowing white dress, she was proud to stand on the float because she thinks it represents the UofA’s support for LGBTQ people, she said.
“The fact that they acknowledge the LGBTQ community and want to be apart of it is a huge thing,” Morphosis said.
The back of the Faulkner float featured recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots is considered to be the first turning point in the movement for LGBTQ equality during which LGBTQ people protested following a police raid, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
But not everyone at the parade was there to support LGBTQ people.
Four men stood apart from the rainbow-outfitted public to voice their opinions to parade attendees.
“Our message here today is that without Christ, no one will enter heaven,” one of the four men, said John, who refused to give his last name or the name of his church or organization. “Everyone is real quick to say, love your neighbor. Well if my neighbor’s house was on fire and he was asleep in his bed, how loving would it be to knock on his door and say ‘excuse me’? If I really cared about my neighbor and knew he was going to perish, I would kick the door in and go get him and pull him out, right?”
Some participants aimed to remind people of current problems facing the LGBTQ community.
During the parade, Max Calabotta and three friends stood solemnly holding handmade posters proclaiming the words, “silence equals death,” and demanding justice for Roxana. Roxana Hernándezwas a 33-year-old transgender woman who died in 2018 while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Services, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“Transgender migrant woman die in ICE custody every year,” Calabotta said.
Calabotta and his friends aimed to bring important issues to the attention of the attendees of the NWA Pride Parade and Festival, Calabota said.
Other Pride events this weekend include Glitterville 2019 at George’s Majestic Lounge, tickets ranging from $25-750, and the Hi Tea Dance & Pool Party at Mount Sequoyah Center, tickets starting at $20, according to Northwest Arkansas Pride. After the parade, Shangela posted on Instagram to let her fans know she will be replacing Alyssa Edwards as the headliner for Glitterville 2019 at George’s Majestic Lounge tonight.