West Texans turn out to celebrate Pride as lawmakers take aim at LGTBQ rights
All photos in this story were provided by Basin Pride and were taken by Brenda Salazar and Callie Cummings.
While most Pride celebrations usually kick off in June around the country — the Permian Basin’s celebration came early.
On a recent Saturday in Odessa, people lounged in the grass at Noel Heritage Plaza in downtown Odessa, watching drag performers dance. LGBTQ organizations from Texas and New Mexico had booths set up for anyone who wanted to stop by. And attendees could wander around a street fair where they could buy art, barbeque or tarot cards.
Organizers had originally picked April for the festival to avoid the sweltering heat of a West Texas summer, but that forced the event to coincide with the 2023 Texas legislative session, where lawmakers have filed a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills, including legislation that would restrict healthcare for trans youth, limit who can see drag shows and censor how educators talk about gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Legislation of hate and bigotry won’t stop us,” a performer going by A Boy Named Pony shouted to the crowd. “And I know our love will be triumphant!”
Patty Reeves described lawmakers’ efforts as a gray cloud, which made the day’s festivities all the more important.
“It’s so needed right now.” She said, “Our community needs a breath of fresh air. They need celebration, they need to be with people who see them for who they are.”
Reeves is the head of the Permian Basin PFLAG chapter, one of the oldest gay rights organizations in the country.
She says it feels so good to watch people come together and feel comfortable enough to just be themselves — especially in such a staunchly conservative community.
“I feel at peace when I’m out with our community. I see everyone so happy and the kids running around with their flags,” she said.
Emerging onto the park’s station, in a dazzling dress and a tall wig, Aundria Sinclair told her audience she was excited to be back in her hometown.
Sinclair proclaimed, “See, I’m a West Texas girl. I grew up here, I went to school here – I went to Permian, don’t hold that against me – and I even started my teaching career here.”
Odessa was also the place where she sharpened her skills as a drag queen -- first performing in the 90s at local bars. Now she teaches in Denver and was just recently crowned Miss Gay Colorado.
Throughout the day’s celebration, Sinclair had a number of costume changes and later lip-synced Melissa Ethridrige’s song “I’m Not The Only One.” But her favorite part was, “The kids, just being unapologetic for who they are.”
They’d come up to her in awe. “It was like being their long-lost aunt.” She explained, “ It really made me feel like my generation paved that way for them.”
As she performed, she reveled in performing for people of all ages.
“It was kind of my way of giving the legislatures the finger,” she explained. “It was my way of saying, ‘I’m not out here hurting any kids.’ I’m out here inspiring people and giving you art.”
This year was only the fourth Basin Pride festival held in the Midland-Odessa area and Tim O’Leary led the charge to organize it. He said, this pride celebration may be less of a party and more relaxed, but he’s really proud.
“We don’t have the giant floats, maybe one year we will.” He continued, “We’re at the stage where everyone’s just chilling on the grass and enjoying community.”
He says Pride has always been a solace no matter what’s going on in the world. O’Leary’s goal for the festival was to give people a place where they could just be themselves.
O’Leary explained, “Just for today, we didn’t want them to think about what’s going on, we just wanted them to be.”