NEA Pride, the local LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Jonesboro, are having an event this weekend called "PrideFest."
It's the first time the group is throwing the event. Shelly Anderson and Yesenia Hernandez are with NEA Pride. They spoke to KASU's Brandon Tabor about the event, how they got involved with the organization, and what they hope the community will get out of it.
PrideFest will be in Downtown Jonesboro on Saturday, October 12, starting at 10am. More details about the event and NEA Pride can be found at neapride.org.
BRANDON TABOR, HOST:
The LGBTQ+ advocacy group NEA Pride have announced that they will have an event later this fall called Pride Fest. This is the first time the group is throwing the event here in Jonesboro. Joining me in the studio to talk about the event are Shelly Anderson. Thank you.
SHELLY ANDERSON: Hello. Thank you.
TABOR: And Yesenia Hernandez. Thank you.
YESENIA HERNANDEZ: Thank you.
TABOR: All right, and they are with NEA Pride. How did you get involved with NEA Pride? Shelly, let me start with you.
ANDERSON: Well, Yesenia invited me to help launch this. I have sort of a long history of nonprofit work, charity work, community work. And so I kind of have a little bit of a knowledge base on how to sort of launch a non-profit and I think that's why Yesenia asked me to come in as a helper. That's how I got involved. Not to mention the fact that my heart is in advocacy and I think that everybody of every walk of life deserves to have equal rights, and so it was just sort of a perfect fit.
TABOR: Yesenia, how did you get involved?
HERNANDEZ: Well, being part of the LGBTQ+ community, there has been a lot of neglect for anything cohesive and a lot of us, you know, come out to our families and being in the location that we're in--the Bible Belt--is usually used against us. We're often times called an abomination or that we're going to go to Hell and those are from the people that we love, or, you know, have loved our entire lives: our parents, our family members, our friends. So I wanted to ensure that there was at least one safe area, safe group that we can go to and even if, you know, we haven't known you our whole lives you are loved and you are safe with us. So that's really what I wanted to create was safe places here in Jonesboro.
TABOR: Other than providing that safe place for the LGBTQ+ community here in Northeast Arkansas, what else does the organization do?
HERNANDEZ: So, I'm currently in communications with some of the staff from Arkansas State University and some of them just wrote a book that's going to help me create a program so that we can hopefully get more safe zones in high schools, and all high schools all across Northeast Arkansas. I'm also the diversity and inclusion chair for the state board of Arkansas PTA, and one of my goals is to create safe places throughout the whole state of Arkansas. As you may know, kids, children that are part of the LGBT community are a higher risk to commit suicide and that oftentimes comes because they don't have anybody that they believe accepts them for who they are. So if they have one adult that’s accepting of them, that risk decreases dramatically. So one of the main programs for me--like one of the main things for me--is to ensure that the children in our area know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they're special and loved as they are.
ANDERSON: We'd also love to be able to provide resources for everybody in the community just so they know where to go for whatever it is that they need. Be it medical help, mentally or physically, be it a place to go to have somebody to talk to or just some fun people to hang out with where they know that it's non-judgmental. So we really want to provide those resources for people in need in Northeast Arkansas.
TABOR: Would there ever be a chance that NEA Pride could actually create a safe house? [Like Lucie’s Place] That's near Little Rock, for LGBTQ homeless people? Could there be a chance that something like that could ever start up here in this area?
ANDERSON: I don't see why not. I've always said dream big and do the best you can to make it happen. So I mean, can we put that on our wish list? I don't see why not. It's a fabulous idea.
HERNANDEZ: That was actually one of the first things that we talked about, was the fact that many people that are part of the LGBT community aren't able to stay in a lot of homeless shelters. There's a lot of discrimination especially against people that are transgender. So we also want to create, you know, that space for them because people that are part of the community are also more likely to become homeless.
ANDERSON: They do have trouble finding housing due regardless of law. Bias will turn you away if you're trying to find a rental property. Sometimes it's a very sad situation.
TABOR: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Okay. So let's turn our tables a little bit. Let's talk about Pride Fest that's coming up.
TABOR: First off. How did you guys come up with the idea for Pride Fest? I guess Yesenia, you probably have the answer.
HERNANDEZ: Well, my main thing is to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. Even though that we are marginalized group being part of the community. We tend to also marginalize voices within our group just like any community. People that are black, trans people with disabilities are often at the bottom when it comes to privilege with our community. So I wanted to make sure that this event wasn't just for a few people but for everyone and representative of our community as a whole. So what we're trying to start out with is we've gotten communications with GSA at Arkansas State University and we're hoping to do some sort of kick-off party with them at the Pavilion the night before the day of the event. We're also in communications with a student at Jonesboro High School and we're trying to start up GSA over there because I haven't been able to have a GSA for over a year now. So we're trying to help them get that established and, I don't know if you went to the March for our Lives a couple years ago, it was after the Parkland shooting and Students Demand Action were involved with that and they're also pro-LGBT. So the students that were involved with that are the ones that are trying to start up the march that starts off the day of the event October 12 at 10:00 a.m. We'll do the march from Jonesboro High School, hopefully into downtown and that's where we will kick off the festivities. We're having a kickoff! We’re going to have people reading poetry. Hopefully we'll have guests as well. Well, we're going to have guest speakers, musicians...
ANDERSON: Just got our DJ last night!
HERNANDEZ: We got a DJ last night and we'll have a pageant. Mr., Ms., Mx. NEA Pride who will hopefully be our representatives for the Christmas parade. So we'll have a presence during Christmas. And after the event is over we'll have a couple of hours of downtime and then we'll have our after party which will be Penance at the Parsonage which will be at the Parsonage in downtown [Jonesboro] and we'll have a full-on drag show and a bear NEA Bear competition. So we're pretty excited about that.
TABOR: NEA Bear?
TABOR: Okay questions. What is NEA Bear?
HERNANDEZ: So the Bear community is typically has been known to be part of the male gay scene, but we're being all inclusive. So however you identify, we’re like, whoever wants to enter the competition you can and they're usually like a little bit bigger. They might be muscular, maybe a little bit fluffy, typically hairy. So that's why they are identifying themselves as bears. So I'm also learning all these names within each community, so….
ANDERSON: …and we've recently learned that if you're a female and you want to participate in this competition, it's an Ursula. So please all Bears in Ursulas come and participate. It's going to be a great fun party. It is a private party, though, at the Parsonage. So you will need to definitely get your wristband ahead of time.
TABOR: And you had mentioned an acronym earlier, GSA. For people who don't know what that acronym means, that’s Gay Straight Alliance.
ANDERSON: They’ve actually changed that just recently.
TABOR: What is it? I'm sorry.
HERNANDEZ: It's well, they do Gay-Straight Alliance, but here at A-State and other schools, they do Gender and Sexualities Alliance. That way it’s a more inclusive way to use that acronym.
TABOR: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for correcting me. I wanted to ask one more question. So I've noticed that there have been a lot of Pride events like this starting up around the nation and this has been a very turbulent time for LGBTQ’s and other minorities. Why do you think this is the best time for communities to throw events like this?
ANDERSON: I really want to quote somebody that might get me in trouble. But when they go low, we go high. And that is the point. We're going to party and celebrate who we are. And let me just clarify to say that even though I am not LGBTQ, they have accepted me as an ally and they know that I am loving them and open arms to them. And so if you are just an ally, please reach out to us, everybody is welcome regardless of where you come from, how much money you got, what you look like, it doesn't matter. We want everybody to feel involved.
TABOR: So what do you hope that people will get out of this event, real quick, who all attends?
HERNANDEZ: I just want them to feel safe and feel loved and know that they're perfect as they are. That's honestly what it is. I just want people to feel like there is nothing wrong with me. Like I want to feel safe.
TABOR: This event is free, correct, or….?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. And we encourage you to bring out the entire family. In fact, for the kids, we are doing a dance competition and costume competition. So have your kids dress up and whatever costume they love doesn't matter. Let them have fun and come on out and dance and boogie. We're going to get an inflatable for the kids, but there will also be lots of fun for all ages. If you want to get married at Pride Fest will have a Pride Fest Chapel, but there will be a lot of fun things for everybody. It is completely free. It's downtown at Centennial Pavilion. Please come on out, October 12.
TABOR: Alright. Shelly Anderson, and Yesenia Hernandez with NEA Pride. Thank you so much for speaking with me.
ANDERSON: Thank you for having us.
HERNANDEZ: Thank you so much.
TABOR: Alright, and NEA Pride is hosting their first ever Pride Fest event in historic downtown Jonesboro on Saturday, October 12. More details can be found online at NEAPride.org.