The Spectrum Center, a nonprofit LGBTQ+ community in Hattiesburg, hosted Pine Belt Pride in the Park at Town Square Park with performances by drag queens and live bands Saturday, Oct. 13.
The Pride in the Park event was one of the last a week Pride events of the week Before Pride in the Park, The Spectrum Center hosted ‘Paint with Pride’ at Painting with a Twist, ‘SoPro Meet and Greet’ at Southern Prohibition Taproom and ‘It’s a Queer Comedy Show’ at the Thirsty Hippo Oct. 10-12.
According to The Spectrum Center’s Facebook page, the organization fosters a supportive, educated and active community that is open, safe and inclusive to people of all sexualities and gender identities. They defend human and civil rights secured by law for members of the LGBTQ+ community and work towards an open, accepting and diverse Mississippi.
Keenon Walker, vice president of The Spectrum Center, was involved with Hattiesburg’s first Pride three years ago, which took place right after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
“When we did our first Pride, it was right when marriage equality was passed, so now we’re trying to keep the movement going. Right now, we’re really focusing on trans advocacy within our center,” Walker said.
Despite the openness of Hattiesburg’s community, Walker believes there is still room for work.
“I still feel like there needs to be some kind of representation, and as a gay black person, I feel like I need to be front and center doing things for the community. When I was asked to help with Pride, I felt like it was perfect. It’s the best way I can give visibility and try to work towards the cause of equality,” he said.
Many local businesses, such as Bianchi’s Pizzeria, The Porter and Boudreaux to Geaux set up booths at Pride in the Park. For Walker, having support from businesses reinforces the fact that Hattiesburg is the place to be in Mississippi.
“You have all these local businesses that are willing to say, ‘I support you, I’m going to put my dollars into it, and I don’t care what people say because I want you to feel like you have a place [in Hattiesburg],’” Walker said.
Many parents who attended the event brought their young children. Face painting and hula hooping competitions were available to entertain the children.
Biz Harris, a Hattiesburg local and member of University Baptist Church, explained why he attended the event.,
“We believe that God loves everybody just as they are, and we wanted our kids to know that whoever they are, whoever they love as they grow up is equally important. We wanted to show our support for equality and equity in our world,” Harris said.
Several students from Southern Miss came to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m here because there’s not really anything here for us besides each other, so we definitely have to stick together,” junior English major Holly Wright said.
The annual Pride Parade through Downtown Hattiesburg followed the Pride in the Park event.
Like Wright, Micah Graves, sophomore English major, came to support the community.
“I’m here to show support. It’s nice weather to go for a walk and support a cause,” Graves said after marching in the parade.