It was the perfect combination, on an early Summer weekend, and all were more than ready to celebrate and be proud.
In commemoration of Juneteenth the Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, Mexico LGBTQiA+ communities celebrated the dazzling return of the El Paso Sun City Pride Block Party.
Seemingly, the population of these three states gathered at the Raves Club, a bar and grill in the heart East Central El Paso, to celebrate Pride, and the visibility of LGBTQiA+ communities.
A common denominator sparkled across the venue and patio: the joy of being together as a whole community.
While the El Paso LGBTQiA+ community has never stopped celebrating the Pride of “being queer” – as some attendees described – last year, the June celebrations were put at an unprecedented halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Carlos Salais, parade co-director for El Paso Sun City Pride, helped the organization reinvent itself.
“Even though it was a sad reason to be in quarantine… It also gave us a little push to refresh our organization.”
Now, as El Paso county surpassed the national goal of getting 70% of its population vaccinated, post-pandemic events and life intersected with Juneteenth and Pride Month and it was time to celebrate.
As folks keep complimenting his vibrant lip color, Salais said El Paso Pride celebrations will last for three months to make up for the lack of events from last year.
“We are planning, it’s in the works right now for another block party, but this time we’re going to get back to downtown El Paso, so we’re looking forward to that and then, of course, August. We’ll be closing the summer pride with our annual parade. Instead of doing it at the beginning, we’re closing now with a parade,” said Salais.
As Salais mentioned, El Paso Sun City Pride lined up a series of events for the entire months of June, July, and August, from bingo nights to parades. To check all the dates and events, click here.
Time to celebrate.
As the El Paso festival scene roars back, some attendees of the Block Party recognized this event is not only made for people in the LGBTQiA+ and expressed their gratitude for allies who have joined the events.
“More people coming out [to the event] it’s not just gays that are coming out… straight [folks] coming out to help celebrate. It’s a wonderful experience,” Yvonne, one of the attendees, told the El Paso Herald Post.
Salais also commented on the number of attendees for this year and said they had the best numbers for pre-sales on the events for the month.
For some, like Julissa, who came from the neighboring city of Las Cruces with her friends, this was her first Pride. And as her friends added, “it’s hot girl summer, time to celebrate.”
The block party took place on June 19th (Juneteenth), and the El Paso community had many accomplishments the nation reached days prior. Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but it is a date that commemorates the event that put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, issued more than two years prior by President Abraham Lincoln.
On June 17th, President Joe Biden signed a law that makes Juneteenth a federal holiday, a milestone that El Pasoans celebrated during the event.
Richard Brethour-Bell, the El Paso Sun City Pride co-Director of Community Outreach, stepped on the stage to talk to an audience warmed up by drag queen performances to present the first edition of the Juneteenth award. This award will recognize exceptional African American individuals in El Paso.
“Texas was the last of the slaveholding states to free the enslaved. But we bounced back from that, right Texas?” said Brethour-Bell when describing Juneteenth.
The first-ever recipient was Sonny, who is not an El Pasoan native but steady and slowly has become part of this binational community.
“Sonny loves El Paso, loves the experience of being here. Born in Dallas, came from Georgia, been here almost seven years. El Paso is Sonny’s home,” said Brethour-Bell.
The Fight is Not Over
According to the Movement Advancement Project, Texas is one of the four states with the largest tally of LGBTQiA+ communities living in their state. Yet, the state has no legal protections for LGBTQiA+ youth and religious exemption laws in place.
Laws that are making the state fall behind under the scrutiny of “LBGTQ Equality” rankings: out of 38.5 points, Texas obtained only one.
Nonetheless, this phenomenon has served as motivation for local El Pasoans and visitors from Las Cruces and all of New Mexico — a State that secured 26.5 points in the same ranking to work towards equality.
“We want equal rights; we want to be accepted, not tolerated. And this is just more of a pushing forward, of what we’re getting acceptance and not toleration,” said Paige Nerotic, a makeup artist who joined the event with his family, offering a variety of skincare products.
The young artist was excited to be reunited with the El Paso LGBTQiA+ community as celebrations resumed this year.
“I feel very thankful. It makes me want to pay my respects to the elder community because we’d like to see the fight, and if it weren’t for the elder community, we wouldn’t have the rights that we have today,” said Notice.
“I was born gay”
Throughout the event, the border community enjoyed dozens of performances of drag queens from El Paso, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and queens from Juarez.
The El Paso community welcomed Alexis Mateo, Puerto Rican Drag Queen, famously known for her appearances in Ru Paul’s Drag Race and All-Stars.
Mateo delighted the Sun City community with a performance combining belly dance movements, and a cape that lighted up each time he turned.
Once her performed ended, Mateo grabbed the microphone to speak to the audience and shared a recent experience that made him reflect on pride and his sexual orientation.
A passenger who sat next to him on the plane that brought Mateo to the Sun City asked him if he was “proud to be gay.”
“I didn’t have a choice to be gay; I was born gay,” confidently Mateo answered.
It was the perfect combination, on an early Summer weekend; and all were feeling proud, standing side by side and celebrating the values that make Pride Month – and the community that bonds at these events – so very special.