Pride Fills The Streets

Pride Fills The Streets

Participants find joy, hope in LGBTQ+ festival

The crowd at the 15th annual Northwest Arkansas Pride Festival June 15 in Fayetteville — the largest LGBTQ celebration in Arkansas, according to the festival website — reportedly swelled into the tens of thousands. Two of the many participants, Zeek Taylor of Eureka Springs, and Joe Suarez-Bowen of Fayetteville, shared their experiences for Free Weekly readers.


Love Wins

Zeek Taylor

Eureka Springs is known as being gay friendly. The town has a large LGBTQ+ population, and each year plays host to many diverse tourists. I thought it was important to stand proud, and for our town to be represented in the largest Pride Festival in Arkansas. Our group was comprised of gays, lesbians, and many straight friends and allies. During lineup, we met and talked with other parade participants. We made new friends, and enjoyed seeing and hugging old friends. Our tribe grew. We felt a strong sense of community that was far beyond our city limits.

During the parade, as we marched down Dickson Street, I was overwhelmed by the tremendous response, cheers and love directed toward us. Many in our group were brought to tears. We were blown away be the thousands and thousands of people lining the parade route who came in support of equality, diversity and “love.”

After the parade, several of us who would be considered elders in the LGBTQ+ community talked about how times have changed. We talked about how far we have come, from a time when we were living in fear, suffering rejection and experiencing persecution and hatred just because of who we loved.

We were delighted by the number of young people who were at the Pride Festival, both straight and gay, who with were sporting rainbow clothing and carrying signs of support. Members of Eureka Springs Pride walking group talked about how happy we were that young LGBTQ+ people will have an easier time than some of us older folk had when we were young.

All people, no matter their sexual preference, should be accepted. Not tolerated, but accepted. The Northwest Arkansas Pride Festival showed me that it is possible and that it is happening. Yes, the times they are a’changing. I came away from the festival with hope.

Love wins.


Hope, Love and Family

Joseph M. Suarez-Bowen

On a wet early morning of June, as the clouds hung low, heavy with rain and thunder was heard in the distance, I found myself pondering the reasons for being awake at 5:30 a.m. Hearing the downpour outside, I immediately reached out for my cell phone and started to send emails to all the volunteers that were set to meet up at 7:30 a.m., trying to give them a reprieve so they could stay in bed a bit longer instead of meeting in the rain. I still got up, met with the neighbor, hooked the trailer to the Ford and headed to the University to get ready for the day’s event.

Without hesitation, I began to make plans and sort out assignments in my mind to maximize productivity now that the rain had cut our preparation time short. It was imperative we met the deadline for registration. We had worked too hard and for too long to allow the rain to slow us down. “This is too important and beyond just me,” I kept telling myself. “We need to do this!”

What made this so important was the fact that Saturday, June 15, was the 2019 NWA Pride Parade, organized by the NWA Equality Center in Fayetteville. What made this event different than previous Pride events was that this parade commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riot in New York City, which is considered the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement in the United States.

I was honored to be a part of the organizing committee that had put together an entry like no other for the parade: Departments from the University of Arkansas. It was the first time that such a large group of students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends from many colleges, schools, departments, student organizations and units from the university were marching together as one in the parade, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community within the university and the many allies. Our entry was led by the UA Office for Diversity and Inclusion, followed by the Jim & Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center, Center for Multicultural & Diversity Education, P.R.I.D.E (Registered Student Organization), Safe Zone Allies, PRIDE Alumni Society, Fay Jones School of Architecture & Design, University of Arkansas Libraries, University of Arkansas School of Art, University Housing, Division of Student Affairs, IDEALS Institute of the U of A, School Social Work and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences.

Volunteers arrived in time, and right away we got to work transforming the 18-foot-long bare double-axle trailer into a float that would display our dedication to the cause and amaze all at the parade. There was so much to do in so little time. We accomplished a lot in less than two hours.

As time came closer and closer to the registration deadline, we headed to the parade’s pre-staging area and found ourselves in the midst of laboriously active people getting their entries together. The place was buzzing with hundreds of people, adults as well as children, greeting individuals like old friends that have not seen each other in a long time. Drag queens, drag kings, gays, lesbians, transgender, non-binary, pastors, preachers, politicians, straight, allies and children were all interacting together, walking hand in hand, laughing together — and nobody gave it a second thought. It felt like a normal day on Main Street, USA.

The atmosphere was a festive one full of energy, colors, sounds and the frantic commotion trying to get things ready even in the pouring rain. It rained. It rained a lot. Drag queens were running for cover. Some of us working on our entries were soaking wet but felt undeterred by the weather. The labor continued until the floats, banners, props and outfits were ready to be displayed. And just like that, the sun finally made its appearance. Just in time to greet thousands of people that were gathering on Dickson Street to watch the parade.

I could see and hear the crowds walking by from our placement in the staging area. It continued to grow as the minutes passed by. Entries were testing their sound systems and props. The momentum was building up. We were gathering our people into one large group and started to assign the order to be followed in front of our float to make sure those attending the parade had no problem identifying us. After all, not really a hard thing to do: We all wore matching white T-shirts displaying our logo for this event: Show Your Colors, Show Your Pride. I quickly changed into my white kilt and decided to have a pep talk with all the people marching with our entry. The electricity in the air was palpable. We were ready. Time to get the party going.

Noon arrived, and with that the bells of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church began to toll. The parade had begun. I can hear the people cheering in the distance. I turned our sound system on and let the music filled the air. It was loud and proud. People began to dance all around us.

I took my place on top of our float with the two beautiful drag queens dressed in all white, Maddy Morphosis and Ella de Marco — we picked white as the color for all of us, representing peace and unity — and our live drummer, Ted Hammig, began to play as loud as he could to match the music levels — and we waited. Excitement and anxiety built up as we waited for our turn to enter Dickson Street. It took a while… longer than I expected. Then the entries before us began to move, and we knew it was time. As we turned the corner from East Street onto Dickson, we were instantly met by thunderous cheering. I took one look around and I saw the reason for the delay: thousands of people had showed up to celebrate pride. It was the largest crowd I have ever seen in the three years I’ve done this event. I couldn’t see the end of it. It was truly an impressive sight. No empty spaces. Just a sea of people that extended as far as the eye could see. You could see entire families were present, cheering those participating in the parade. This was the moment we worked so hard for. It was time to do what we came to do.

Once I shot that first confetti cannon into the air, filling it with multi-color streams, the roar coming from the audience was deafening. People were dancing in the streets. It felt like Carnival in Rio or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Colorful rainbow flags were flying everywhere, representing the many groups that compose the LGBTQ+ community. People were celebrating life.

From my vantage point above the crowds I saw so many children waving and smiling … marching along the parade route as well as attending the event. That’s when I thought to myself, “Their generation will be more accepting that the ones before. They will grow up without the prejudice and hatred some have against our community. This moment right now is what the Stonewall Inn Riots have accomplished.” I felt energized.

As we began the slow descent down Dickson Street, no matter which way I looked, all I could see was endless happy faces, young and old, different races and cultures, all cheering and smiling. Wherever I looked, there was a party. It took us a while to get to the end of the parade route, and once there I turned around, and all I could see was that vast and endless sea of people celebrating Pride. I couldn’t see the end of the parade at all.

Indeed it was a Pride parade like no other. It was the second largest gathering on Dickson Street, second only to the Bikes, Blues and BBQ festival. The NWA Equality Center, along with the city of Fayetteville and the Fayetteville police, had made this event a success. Not only the LGBTQ+ community was present but many allies as well.

Some of the participants in this year’s parade were Walmart (proudly displaying Sam Walton’s truck), Crystal Bridges, Johnson & Johnson, Cox, Tyson, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Trinity Methodist Church, LGBTQ Veterans, Bentonville Follies, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Experian, Cody Barlow, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Eureka Springs Pride, Washington County Democrats, The democratic Party of Benton County, PFLAG of Northwest Arkansas, NWA MamaBear Hugs (the local chapter of Free Mom Hugs), Progressive Insurance, Planned Parenthood, Casa, House of Dior, Unity church of Fayetteville, The Hillbilly Harlots, Mental Health Counselors, Outback Steak House, Omni, NWACC, Procter & Gamble, Moms demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Triniti Night Club, Day by Day Center for Health and Healing, Bordinos, Harrison Pride Fest, Lost Forty Brewing, All Saints Episcopal Church, Twisted Flight Fitness, Salon Venues, Arkansas Gay Rugby and so many more civic, religious, academic and political groups.

What do I take away from this experience? Well, first, times have changed. Even though today’s political climate fosters division and discord, the LGBTQ+ movement continues to grow stronger each day.

Second, religious institutions are sharing a message of inclusion and acceptance. That is very important for a community that has been shunned from ecclesiastical organizations.

Third, acceptance is becoming the norm instead of tolerance. Tolerance and acceptance are two different things. One promotes conditional support and the other promotes unconditional embrace.

But before I paint a picture of perfection, it is important to understand that we are not there yet. We are still facing hurdles and challenges to be accepted as equals — to be treated as equals. Let’s not forget those who were and continue to be persecuted, tortured, disowned and ever murdered for being part of the LGBTQ+ community. We still face discrimination, bullying, harassment and inequality. But at least for one day in June, people from far and wide came together, on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, and looked into the future with hope and joy while celebrating life.


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Photos by Ben Goff, NWA Democrat-Gazette, and shared by Free Weekly readers. See more photos and a video at

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