Richard and Allen, both in their sixties, have been coming to the area since the ‘70s. But back then they weren’t donning rainbow pinstripe shirts or rainbow sashes like today, they said.
The San Antonio they grew up in was not so accepting. Gay men were beat up outside of clubs, they said, and weren’t able to display affection in public.
“It’s good to see so many people out enjoying the freedom they have now that we struggled to have,” Richard said.
As hundreds of young people clad in glitter and vibrant costumes pranced around the park grounds, Richard and Allen were reminded of the differences between the society they grew up in and society today.
“I’m a little envious of the young ones,” Richard said. “It’s good to see because it’s hopeful that life and the world are improving. That’s what we wanted then and I think it’s something that will grow and grow and grow, but you have to work for it.”
This year’s Pride Festival, which ran from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., drew hundreds of attendees — a turnout larger than year’s past. Patrons enjoyed live music, food, and other activities.
The festival’s $10 admission fees will be divided among five charities: Black Effort Against the Threat of AIDS (BEAT AIDS), Fiesta Youth, Gay, Ally and Lesbian Alliance of San Antonio College (GALA of SAC), LGBTQ Coalition at Texas A&M-San Antonio and the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP San Antonio).
The tragic shooting at an Orlando gay club last month, which left 49 dead and 53 injured, was a prevalent topic of conversation among attendees. But the overall vibe at Saturday’s festival was not one of mourning, but celebration.
Rainbow flags lined Main Street and inside the grounds, crowds of people danced to live music and posed for pictures with one another. Vendors set up booths offering free swag, handmade goods, prize giveaways and food.
Jose Capetillo, PRIDE San Antonio volunteer and membership coordinator, said more people were interested in volunteering at this year’s festival than ever before. In the weeks preceding the event, Capetillo said his email blew up with inquiries from out-of-town individuals looking to get involved, possibly as a response to the Orlando shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
“I do think that tragedy does bring us together,” Capetillo said. “So standing united and here together is definitely a good way to show that we are strong as a community.”
Although there were no threats to the local community on Saturday, KSAT 12 reported that San Antonio Police Department officers joined Bexar County sheriff’s deputies, San Antonio Park Police officers and private security at the festival to ensure that attendees were safe.
Jade Matson, 18, has enjoyed herself at the festival in the past, but said the shooting was on her mind this year when deciding whether or not to come to the event.
“The shooting did make me a little cautious and it made me feel like I was unsafe,” Matson said. “But I’m still going to do what I love — I just have to be more aware of what people are doing now.”
Plastered with glitter and donning a rainbow-striped bikini, Matson joined several of her friends in matching getups to talk, dance and celebrate the LGBTQIA community.
“I like celebrating the pride that I have, so one day a year like this is perfect to do that,” Matson said. “I can celebrate without being ashamed of what others think.”
The Rainbow Dash 1 Mile Family Fun Run/Walk will start at 8 p.m. following the festival’s end at 7 p.m. The Krystal Kelly Running of the Queen’s High Heel Race begins at 8:45 p.m. and then at 9 p.m., the free PRIDE parade kicks off at Dewey Place and North Main Avenue and ends at Lexington and Euclid avenues.
Top image: Drag King Paradox Rey dresses to the theme of gender fluidity. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.