After seeing negative comments about the LGBTQ community on Facebook, Raynie Castañeda wanted to show that Tyler is not just hate.
She saw a person who was moving to Tyler post on a local Facebook page asking if there were any drag shows or LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual) events in the city. The person received 400 comments, which Castañeda said were full of homophobia.
On Sunday morning Downtown Drag and Pride Walk, organized by Castañeda, came to life. The event included a march, talent showcase and various vendors.
She needed approval from the county to use the downtown square for the event.
“It was as simple as me sending an email with an application and them letting me know that I was approved,” Castañeda said.
She said she did not experience any sort of discrimination and she was both surprised and excited.
“Next year, we’ll be way more prepared,” Castañeda said. “This was so unexpected, the way that this grew and evolved, and so quickly. It’s been amazing.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Castañeda continued. “New generations of LGBTQ will be born and because we are more accepting and more loving than the previous generation. It will be in more numbers, because they don’t feel that they have to be closeted, so this is a message. This is saying, ‘Look at this, we’re not going anywhere. This is our town, too; it’s our home, too.’”
Two counter protesters held signs for the first hours of the event. Their messages read, “You need Jesus, he died 4 u, trust him, follow him, obey him, and he can save you from sin and hell.”
Attendees were told not to engage with the counter protesters.
Nadia Allmon had a vendor spot with her organization, Free Mom Hugs, which had about 12 to 15 people offering “mom, dad and grandpa hugs.”
“We’re now going to become a pretty active chapter in the area,” Allmon said. “There’s not a lot of LGBTQIA events that are thrown here, so whenever we saw this, we knew we had to jump on it.”
She said it felt pure and she felt nothing but love and acceptance in the air.
“We’ve had so many, even before the event started, come up and just break down crying as we held them,” Allmon said. “It was just a pure, beautiful moment, to be able to hold them and hold space for them.”
Allmon said she hopes hugs from her organization members provide hope to hang on for another day.
“It makes a difference because the reason they really need that mom hug is because their mom has not accepted them. They’ve either been kicked out of their home or shut out from religion or from their families. So to have someone who stands in and says, ‘I will stand in for your parent and I am a mom and I will be your mom now,’ it just means everything to be held to them, to feel acceptance and love and that they do belong,” Allmon said.
Madeline Harrison, of Lindale, traveled to Tyler with their father to attend the drag walk. They said when they heard the event was happening, they had to paint a shirt and skirt to show their pride and support everyone else who needs encouragement. They said they had never seen an event like this in East Texas.
“It feels super empowering. It makes me want to cry, just seeing the mom hugs over there, it’s really sweet,” Madeline Harrison said.
As a member of the LGBTQIA community, their father was right by their side with a sign that said, “Proud dad. Love is love.”
Their father, Harry Harrison, said the drag walk is sending a message of love and support to the community.
“It’s very conservative. I see a lot of hate, from where I worked, to going to stores, to the dirty looks and everything, so to see something like this is awesome. The whole community should know they’re part of us. They should be loved and respected like anybody else,” Harry Harrison said.
Harry Harrison said Pride Month, which is celebrated every June, is a time to show there’s a LGBTQIA community and educate people about oppression and laws against those in the LGBTQIA community.