In rural areas, about 3.8 million LGBTQ+ residents make up about one-fifth of the population, according to a study published in 2019 by the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing equality and justice. Some experts believe the number is probably even higher.
Although there is no national database of LGBTQ+ Pride festivals, they have spread from larger cities to small towns across states such as West Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, and Wyoming. The Human Rights Campaign reports that Mississippi has experienced an increase from one to about a dozen events over the past few years.
There were at least 330 Pride festivals held in 2022 in the United States, almost half in towns with fewer than 50,000 people, according to Beck Banks, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon who studies transgender media and transgender rurality.
The number of emerging Pride events can be hard to ascertain because they are primarily determined by how well they are marketed, according to Banks.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are another 100 or so out there, and I’d be happy if there are,” they said. “Large suburbs are getting their own Prides, but it’s clear that smaller towns and rural areas are leading this growth.”
Among their research projects, Banks described to The Advocate tracking Prides as a method of assessing queer life outside metropolitan areas.
“Much like the Women’s March and the BLM movement, LGBTQ (and those intersectional identities) are speaking up in small towns and rural locations,” Banks says. “We’ve learned that action is needed. Pride is an action. This is about creating a place to thrive in this country.”
Many unexpected Pride celebrations were held around the country to honor the LGBTQ+ community during the last month. We are sharing a few of them here.
“We saw hundreds of allies and families at our events; it was heartwarming and affirming for our community,” says vice-chair of Bastrop Pride, Nicole DeGuzman.
Two miles away from a national motorcycle rally, 100 sold-out “Drag Variety Show” attendees enjoyed a spectacular show, DeGuzman said. In addition, 300 people attended the picnic at a local park on Bastrop’s riverfront, an overwhelming show of in-person support for about 9,000 residents.
Bastrop Pride’s mission is to create and grow a community for LGBTQ+ members, their families, friends, and allies and raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in Bastrop County, in Texas, just east of Austin, and surrounding areas.
“We’re here to celebrate all that makes us unique and all that brings us together,” DeGuzman says.
Two venues backed out just days before the Drag Variety Show, which could have been a disaster for the small group of volunteers who organized it. However, organizers found a venue willing to host the event despite the risk to their business, DeGuzman tells The Advocate.
Central Oregon celebrated pride throughout June with well over 40 events, including the Bend Pride 5k and Drag dash attracting over 500 participants, a Pride Roller Skate with more than 650 mostly youth participants, and ‘OUT on the Runway’ – a Queer Art + Fashion show.
“This year, we celebrated the 17th Annual Central Oregon Pride – growing from a picnic of 20 people to this year about 5,000 participants with over 100 community booths (the largest pride yet in our community),” Richard Scharfenberg with Out Central Oregon wrote to The Advocate.
“Thanks to an initiative we created in 2020, when we were unable to hold a pride event because of COVID, community support has grown substantially over the last year,” Scharfenberg says.
“The idea started with giving 50 businesses in town the Progress Pride flag sticker and the words ‘You Are Welcome Here’ so they could still support pride. ‘
Scharfenberg says that more than 80 businesses have partnered with the group to provide more than 40,000 stickers worldwide in two years.
“We also have a ‘Winter Pridefest’ weekend that we have grown over the past four years — held in March 2022, attracting over 1,200 Participants.
Pride has been non-stop in our small community since that time,” Scharfenberg adds.
In large numbers, the LGBTQ+ community turned out for the Pride Parade in downtown Billings, which began June 20 with community cleanup. ZooMontana’s Drag Queen Story Hour was the week’s most popular and controversial event. Zoo officials estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 people attended the four-hour event, but no official count was available later. Staff set up 180 chairs at the beginning, the Billings Gazette reported, and staff added more chairs shortly before story hour began.
A trio of drag queens read family-friendly books to children and took pictures with guests during the breaks.
The event was sponsored by 406 Pride in cooperation with other Drag Queen Story Hours around the country.
About 100 protesters lined the street opposite ZooMontana an hour before the Drag Queen Story Hour began.
ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt has no regrets about holding the event on zoo property. He told Billings CBS affiliate KTVQ that the event drew the largest crowd he has ever seen for any event unrelated to the Montana zoo.
More than 90 vendors offered food, refreshments, and goods for the whole family at Point Cadet Plaza.
It’s the organizer’s goal to help the task force “get back on its feet to help fund them to provide services to the community,” Walter Pitts, Gulf Coast Association of Pride president, told South Mississippi TV station WXXV.
The Gulf Coast LGBTQ+ Pride Day began in 2017, the first Pride event on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Gulf Coast Association of Pride strives to create a pride event that celebrates, inspires, educates, and commemorates the LGBTQ+ community on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the group’s Facebook page says.
Charleston, West Virginia
West Virginia kicked off June with a Pride festival and parade in Charleston. Thousands showed up for the event, where young and old revelers celebrated all things LGBTQ+.
A red ribbon statue dedication held in the city’s Living AIDS Memorial Garden marked a remembrance of those lost and a celebration of those living with HIV. A mid-June highlight was a night out at David Bowie Tribute Live on the Levee featuring several drag queens.
“No children were harmed by last night’s entertainment,” notes Justin Hylbert.
Local businesses were encouraged to show their Pride with rainbow colors. As a result, many participated in the 2022 Show Your Pride Window Display Contest, according to Rainbow Pride of West Virginia.
The month was a success according to all accounts.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Although a campaign against the June 11 gathering began in April and 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested on the day of the event, North Idaho Pride Alliance’s sixth annual Pride in the Park celebration was the organization’s largest and most successful event so far, the Spokesman-Review reports.
Until the arrests were reported in the media, many Pride in the Park attendees had no idea about them. Approximately 2,000 people attended Pride in the Park, and the North Idaho Pride Alliance regarded it as a peaceful event.
As well as implementing a “do not engage” policy, the organization established a safety committee to inform law enforcement of any potential dangers, North Idaho Pride Alliance Outreach Director Jessica Mahuron said.
In 2022, Mahuron said, the team developed safety measures in collaboration with law enforcement.
“I personally would like for us to see the hope that is in our story, about a small community organization that faced enormous challenges that are not normal for even a Pride organization to experience,” she told the Spokesman.
The 10th Annual Frederick Pride occurred at Carroll Creek Linear Park in Frederick, Md., on June 25.
Thousands of people attended Frederick Pride, a festival celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and several other groups.
There was no lack of entertainment — several stages provided non-stop things for celebrants to experience and enjoy.
Several hundred vendors set up tents and stands to display their wares and provide glimpses into their organizations and businesses.
Various activities were offered as part of the festival, held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A highlight of the celebration was the Frederick Pride Parade, one of the day’s highlights, which wound through the streets without incident.
Note: An earlier version of this article did not identify musician Ryan Cassata as performing at Frederick Pride in 2019. This image was taken from and credited to @FrederickMDPride on Instagram. Ryan Cassata is a singer-songwriter, performer, actor, writer, LGBTQ+ activist, and transgender motivational speaker.
Iowa City, Iowa
The Iowa City Pride Festival featured music, vendors, and a parade in downtown Iowa City, bringing joy, love, and celebration to the streets, the Gazette reports. Iowa City Pride was founded in 1970 as an advocacy and awareness organization. Since then, it has evolved into a celebration of accomplishments, according to interim president Jewell Amos.
Alisabeth Von Presley, a Cedar Rapids singer who represented Iowa in the first American Song Contest on NBC, performed at the festival. Through her music, Von Presley wants to instill confidence in youth and promote a “real women” body image, her website says.
With signs reading “Disarm Hate,” “Love is Love,” and “Protect Trans Youth,” marchers made their way through downtown streets.
Johnson City, Tennessee
In Tennessee, Johnson City held its first “Pride Rainbow Festival” this year. Hundreds attended, and 50 vendors sold their wares.
The event aims to increase visibility and reassure everyone that they are welcome regardless of their sexual orientation.
The fact that people chose to attend this year’s festival on the Saturday following the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade means a lot to festival organizer John Baker.
“We’re here,” organizer and Pride Community Center President John Baker told WJHL. “We’re not going away, you’re going to have to get used to it, and you’re going to have to stop passing these laws of hate.”
A live storytelling event modeled after Public Radio’s The Moth kicked off Friday night with Houlihan Narratives, a live storytelling event where two Spirit/LGBTQ+ individuals shared their experiences in somewhat of a monologue format. This year’s theme was “Coming Home.”
Wind River Pride presented the first-ever drag show Saturday as part of the group’s celebrations.
The weekend concluded with Lander City Park’s 9th annual Pride Picnic.
Known as one of Nebraska’s largest Pride celebrations, the Star City Pride-sponsored festival is held annually over two days.
In addition to more than 70 vendors and a kids zone, the festival featured community speakers and entertainment.
Hundreds chanted “Our home, here to stay!” as they walked around the Capitol, handing out pride stickers and information on how to be an ally, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
Many community organizations participated in the parade, including Nebraska AIDS Project, First-Plymouth Church, Heritage Presbyterian Church, The Bay, and Planned Parenthood.
Attendees and participants represented organizations such as Free Mom Hugs, a national organization that offers parental support to LGBTQ+ members whose families are unsupportive.
Among the entertainment was Mean Gworlz, a drag parody of the 2004 classic film.
It’s not a town most people equate with LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations, but Milwaukee has an entire festival — Wisconsin loves its festival culture — dedicated to celebrating pride, and this year it broke attendance records.
As PrideFest returned to its usual early June weekend dates for the first time in years in 2022, it may have seemed like a return to normal. However, judging from the numbers, the festival’s reception was anything but ordinary.
PrideFest 2022 had 38,731 attendees, breaking the record of 37,682 attendees in 2017, according to On Milwaukee. More than 300 performers were featured over five stages during PrideFest, from dancers to DJs to drag queens, with more than 90 percent of them from Wisconsin.
At the first PrideFest on Summerfest grounds in early summer since 2019, the festival ran from June 2-4 at Henry Maier Festival Park. In 2020, the in-person event was canceled due to COVID-19, shifting to an online celebration. The following year, PrideFest returned with a “Pridetoberfest” event rather than during Pride Month. In its classic form, PrideFest has returned — and the crowd and community spirit have, too, after a two-year hiatus.
Several events were held this year, including storytellers on the Stonewall Stage, fireworks on Saturday night, and headline acts such as Martha Wash, Frenchie Davis, Prince Poppycock from “America’s Got Talent,” Cindy Foster, Sam Morrison, and Marik Mavrakys on Friday.
Rainbow flags and ‘90s dance hits decorated the town’s park. Organizers served cake, pizza, and cool drinks under a gazebo. Kids ran around the playground and waved rainbow flags. It was Pikeville’s third Pride festival.
Organizers in rural areas recognize that LGBTQ+ rights are tied to other political struggles. For example, a neo-Nazi march inspired Pikeville Pride in 2017. After hate groups gathered in the predominantly white city in hopes of finding common ground, Pikeville Pride organizer Cara Ellis organized counterprotests.
“A large group of us came together,” Ellis said to PBS affiliate WOUB. “After the moment with the rally, we were going to try to move the conversation forward, like how to take this really negative traumatic thing that happened and make it a positive. So one of the ideas was Pikeville Pride.”
It organized a rally in June, attended by more than 250 people advocating for abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Gay and trans advocates argue the need for solidarity is urgent since the ruling could affect other privacy-related rights like same-sex marriage. Without federal protection, gay and trans advocates say the tables could turn rapidly.