Cindy and Shearon Roberts-Mears walk through the festival together Saturday, June 25, 2022, at RGV PRIDE on South Padre Island. The couple have been together for 43 years and married for 9. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

RGV PRIDE is back and better than ever Saturday as the Valley’s LGBTQIA+ community and their allies celebrate, educate and organize at the Cameron County Amphitheater and Event Center in Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island.

June begins the annual month-long celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States, known as Pride month. According to the Library of Congress, on June 28, 1970, New York City held the first Pride march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

In 2013 in the Rio Grande Valley, Saturday’s event started as “PRIDE in the PARK” and returned in 2022 after a short COVID-19 hiatus with a new name—“RGV PRIDE”.

RGV PRIDE coordinator Steven Cano of the Valley AIDS Council says the name change came about after careful consideration by organizers who wanted to change the perception of the event as being just one day in the year to celebrate. The change would reflect the group’s dedication to holding events and opportunities valley-wide throughout the year.

“It almost seemed like this event happened just one time, once a year. RGV Pride is something that happens 365 days of the year. Our new approach isn’t about hosting one event in particular but continuing to educate and support our community—so we changed our name into RGV Pride,” Cano said.

The event is part of a collaboration between the Valley Aids Council, South Texas Equality Project and AIDS Education and Training Center.

Saturday attendees had access to professional development sessions, over 80 vendors and exhibitors, beach activities on the private PRIDE beach, food trucks, Loteria, beer gardens and a youth area; all open to families of all ages to enjoy and celebrate Pride together.

Kick-off came at 4 p.m. followed by performances from Jay Sol, Khris Abrion, Lizzie Astroga and a drag show hosted by Luna Karr, culminating in a closing dance before ending at midnight.

While the crowd steadily moves through the vendor stalls throughout the afternoon, inside the event center Gabriel Sanchez pulls out clothing, photos, books and magazines to lay out as part of an exhibition featuring the history, figures and culture of LGBTQIA+ individuals from and living in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I feel like if you are growing up here as someone who is gender diverse or queer it can be really hard to feel like you belong here. So I wanted to show people that we have always been part of the Valley and have a lot to be proud of,” Sanchez said.

While the event is a celebration, there is a palpable feeling in the air of the coming storm of the recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court “should reconsider” past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage—which relied on the same legal reasoning as the now-overturned Roe v. Wade.

“It is an even bigger push and reason why we continue to celebrate Pride and carry it to the rest of the year. We have to be the voice for change— even though it looks and seems bleak, it is all about using our voice,” Cano said.

Will the rise of legislation in Texas and other states aimed at transgender youth and “Don’t Say Gay” bills, the stakes are now even higher. Cano says the important part is to remind people working against their community —they are not going anywhere.

“We are here. The fact that there is an agenda and rhetoric that is trying to continue to erase us is the very reason we are not just celebrating Pride one day—we are celebrating it 365 days a year.” Cano said.

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