After Taking 'Baby Steps' Last Year With A Virtual Event, Taylor Will Celebrate Pride In Person
The faded marquees and antique storefronts in downtown Taylor paint the familiar scene of a Texas town. At the center of miles of land and homes, older buildings poke out of the ground making up Main Street. While they've stood strong throughout the years, the buildings can't block out the beating sun, so awnings line the sidewalk every way you look.
Pedestrians walk with purpose this time of year, trying to avoid the heat rising up from the concrete, crossing the road before street lights give the OK. There are few passing cars.
But then, on the side of an old, warehouse-sized structure, there’s an unfamiliar sight: a large banner with six little ducks in a row, each a color of the rainbow.
Taylor is getting ready for its first-ever in-person Pride event Saturday.
A Community Bonds Online
Pride commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots — a spontaneous uprising sparked by a police raid on a gay club in New York City. Taylor's event follows a virtual celebration last year that came about online.
Taylor resident Denise Rodgers created a Facebook page in May 2020 for the LGBTQ community and their allies.
“I started [the page] because it was during the pandemic and everyone was really isolated,” she said. “And this is a marginalized group that's already super isolated in this environment.”
“As soon as they found one another … they all just really kind of clung to each other very quickly.”Denise Rodgers, Taylor resident
She expected about a dozen people to join, but in the first couple of weeks, there were more than 300.
“It was people who had lived here for a decade, who had never met another gay person, another gay family, [or] anyone like themselves,” Rodgers said. “And as soon as they found one another … they all just really kind of clung to each other very quickly.”
That bond grew into an idea to celebrate Pride.
“Pride was just around the corner,” she said. “And people were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we found each other, and we need to celebrate.’”
While the group wanted to get together in person, Rodgers said, the online event worked out better. That setting helped the group gradually make their presence known in the broader, historically conservative area.
“Believe it or not, I think COVID really was on our side in the fact that we kind of had to baby step it and just give [residents] a little taste,” Rodgers said. “It wasn't a giant flag in their face. It was just some cute little rainbow ducks, which is our mascot for Taylor. Doing the virtual event wasn't filling the streets with a parade. It was kind of a safe way for them to experience it without too much judgment or having to get too involved.”
With time, signs featuring rainbow ducks and the words “Taylor Pride Established 2020” popped up in yards, storefronts and public spaces across the city.
A 'Tough Row To Hoe'
In 2019, Justices of the Peace KT Musselman and Stacy Hackenberg asked Williamson County commissioners if they could fly the rainbow Pride flag outside their court buildings in Round Rock and Taylor, respectively, for the month of June. They also asked if they could fly prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action flags during the week of Veterans Day.
But their requests were denied, and county commissioners instituted a new flag policy: only the U.S., Texas or official Williamson County flags could be flown on county property.
Two years later, Musselman said, local officials are still advocating for more official recognition of the LGBTQ community.
“We will probably push for an official proclamation recognizing Pride Month," he said. “But even that is a tough row to hoe because there's still the politics of Williamson County.”
Opposition To Pride
Megan Klein, co-founder of the Texas Beer Company, is among business owners supporting the event. She said she remembers when a local church spoke out on social media against the virtual celebration last year.
And this year, the Taylor Area Ministerial Alliance, an organization for networking among pastors and congregations, invited people to protest Saturday, calling homosexuality a sin.
Other religious organizations have shown support, though, including St. James' Episcopal Church and Church of the Savior. And Klein said there was support last year, too.
“The whole town kind of rallied around the fact that that isn't how we feel,” Klein said.
Following Taylor's Lead
The Taylor Pride committee is trying to expand its reach to other Williamson County cities. Planning is underway in Leander and Cedar Park for Pride events next year.
Sara Groff, who has lived in Cedar Park for nearly 20 years, has taken the lead on planning that city's Pride. She made signs similar to the ones in Taylor, that say “Cedar Park Pride Established 2021” under a rainbow oak tree, which is symbolic of her city.
As the mother of a transgender daughter and gay son, she has always flown a Pride flag at her home, but after seeing the Taylor signs, she wanted one for her own city.
“I just wanted to show the community that there are allies here that love you and see you and want you to be included,” Groff said.
She printed 100 signs.
“They're all gone,” she said. And she has calls for more.
Taylor's Pride event takes place Saturday from 2 p.m. until venues close. It will feature speakers including state Rep. James Talarico, Musselman and Hackenberg, along with acts by drag queens, bands and an open mic. Black Sparrow Music Parlor, Texas Beer Company, Xchange Nightlife and Good Strangers cafe are helping to host the event.
The Taylor Pride committee plans to use money raised during the Pride event to help start a nonprofit dedicated to helping rural LGBTQ communities.
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