The Ag Pavilion at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center was a little more colorful Saturday.
Attendees gathered there for the annual East Texas Pride Festival as a mayoral proclamation officially declared June 15 as LGBT Pride Day in Longview.
“This is by far my favorite event of the year,” said Leisha Kidd-Brooks, city environmental health manager, before reading the proclamation.
“All citizens have the right to feel safe and not live in fear of harassment and persecution and not be discriminated against,” the proclamation read.
According to the Human Rights Campaign website, Pride activities commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, when people fought back against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a LGBT bar.
The East Texas Pride Festival started six years ago at Heritage Plaza downtown.
David Ames, president of Pride of East Texas Longview, said the event moved to the Maude Cobb complex so there can be more room for growth.
Saturday also was the first time, to Ames’ knowledge, that the rainbow Pride flag flew from a city of Longview flag pole. When he requested permission, Ames said he was told no one had ever asked to do so.
“It’s a symbol of our unity, and we are a caring, loving community,” he said. “We welcome everyone, which a lot of times is not so much the case in the other direction.”
Cole Collins said part of the reason he attended the event was to see the Pride flag flying from an official city flag pole.
“It’s cool to see that our small town is getting more open minded,” he said. “Who would have ever thought in Longview that there would be a Pride flag hanging and nobody’s burning it or shooting at it?”
Karah Humphries and Becky Phillips said they came to the festival to give out “free mom hugs” to people who may no longer be close to their families because of their sexuality.
“So many adults and children are (homeless) due to the fact that they love somebody with the same genitals as them is ridiculous to me,” Humphries said. “The statistics that I was reading the other day said back in 2017, it was estimated that there were 1.6 million homeless youth and 40 percent of them were LGBTQ. That’s almost half. Why?”
Phillips said she also saw similar statistics and stories online, and she was inspired to show up in her “Free Mom Hugs” shirt.
“I’ve already hugged people from kids to senior citizens,” she said. “There are a lot of people here who have spent, unfortunately in this part of the country, their entire lives rejected, and everybody deserves a hug.”
Ames said the festival is an important day to celebrate love. He said he and his partner are celebrating 12 years together, and Pride is a symbol of that love.
“It let’s us be us. It let’s people be who they are,” he said. “It’s important for everyone to be able to live and love the way they want to love.”