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Pride Marfa returns with a message of “unwavering support” for the LGBTQ community

An LGTBQ pride flag in Marfa on June 6, 2023.
Travis Bubenik
Marfa Public Radio
A pride flag in Marfa on June 6, 2023.

Pride Marfa is returning to the small West Texas town this weekend after an inaugural celebration last year that was widely hailed as a momentous event for LGBTQ people across the region.

The second annual celebration, set for June 9-11, also comes after a Texas legislative session where lawmakers approved multiple bills targeting the LGBTQ community, including measures banning gender affirming care for trans youth and taking aim at drag performers.

For Lawrence Johnson, one of Pride Marfa’s organizers, recent trends in anti-LGTBQ legislation in Texas and around the country are all the more reason for this year’s celebration.

“In an era where misinformation and fear are used as tools to marginalize and diminish our community, we resist by amplifying queer voices and showcasing the talent, creativity and resilience found within our ranks,” he said.

As much as Pride celebrations are inherently a form of protest, Johnson stressed that the event this weekend is also meant to be about celebration and fun.

“We were told by so many people that last year’s Pride event was the funnest weekend, bar none,” Johnson said. “We enjoy living, and we want to share that love and that light with whoever we can.”

Like last year, the lineup for this year’s event includes another mix of drag performances, family friendly gatherings and late night dance parties.

Johnson said that organizers are taking a more cautious approach with the drag shows this year, after state lawmakers approved a bill criminalizing sexually explicit shows in front of children. While the measure was altered to remove more direct references to drag shows, LGBTQ advocates remain concerned that it could be used to target drag performers and trans people more broadly. The bill, which has been sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, would take effect in September.

“We’re not touching that with a ten-foot pole,” Johnson said. “Our drag show is taking place at El Cosmico on the night of the welcome mixer on Friday, so that is an adult-only event, it’s a private venue, but it’s definitely going to be one of the best things about Pride Marfa weekend.”

In the wake of last year’s event, allegations surfaced that local officials quietly sought to have rainbow pride flags removed from the Presidio County Courthouse lawn. This year, organizers said AEP Texas, the electric transmission company that serves the Marfa area and other parts of West Texas, blocked them from hanging pride flags on local utility poles.

Abby Boyd, one of the event’s organizers, said she was informed by AEP Texas External Affairs Manager Blake Burchard that the Pride Marfa team would not be allowed to hang the rainbow flags from local utility poles as they did last year.

“He said that last year they had gotten both positive and negative feedback about the flags, so this year they were going to take a neutral position and not put the flags up,” Boyd said. “And I said, ‘that’s not a neutral position.’”

Burchard denied that the company’s decision was based on public perception. Rather, he said, it was due to the company not wanting to use utility poles to fly anything other than the U.S. flag on national holidays.

“We don’t really need to get into different groups, saying yes or no here or there,” he said. “Us saying no has nothing to do with who they are, it has to do with the use of our poles for something other than what they’re designed for.”

Burchard said the company wasn’t aware of the rainbow flags being hung from the poles by event organizers last year, but that the company let them remain for the duration of the event anyway.

Boyd called the company’s decision this year “disappointing,” but said organizers had found a workaround: handing out pride flags to local business owners and residents to hang instead.

According to Johnson, the Pride Marfa team wound up having to order even more flags after an outpouring of interest from locals.

“All of the same flags that we were going to be put up on the poles, they have happy new homes along the businessway here in Marfa,” he said. “We’re happy that at the end of the day, they will be able to serve their purpose, which is to just represent pride and to show community support for what is ultimately a positive thing in Marfa.”

Pride Marfa kicks off Friday evening with “The Best Drag Show Ever” at El Cosmico, followed by events through the weekend at the hotel campground, Cochineal, the Sentinel and a closing pool party on Sunday at the Hotel Saint George.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.