Planning stages for the biggest LGBTQ event in the Rio Grande Valley are underway.

Pride in the Park, a music and arts festival that celebrates the Valley LGBTQ community, will be returning on June 23 at the McAllen Convention Center from 3 PM to 10 PM. The event will be presented by South Texas Equality Project (STEP), an organization whose purpose is “to unite local businesses, faith-based organizations, institutions, and individuals who share the common goal of supporting, nurturing, and celebrating the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, and others (LGBTQIA+) community.”

STEP organizers have been working on Pride in the Park for months and are looking for different ways to improve upon their festival from previous years.

“We are working very hard to make sure this is the biggest and best one ever,” Oscar Lopez, president of STEP, said. “It already is the biggest gay pride celebration in the Rio Grande Valley.”

In 2017, STEP estimates that more than 5,000 people attended Pride in the Park, with 1,000 of those attendees being children under the age of 12.

Last year was the first time April Cartwright, a local artist from Edcouch-Elsa, attended the gathering.

“I’ve never been surrounded by so many queer people, and it was really validating,” Cartwright said. “It was amazing to see so many organizations come together to share their knowledge and resources. Pride in the Park was a blast but also incredibly informative for me. I felt so safe and supported by my community.”

Valerie Severn of STEP and Valley AIDS Council added, “We got such an outpouring of people last year. It’s going to be bigger this year at the McAllen Convention Center.”STEP is expecting to see the attendance number jump up to 7,000 to 10,000 this year, including a major increase in young attendees.

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“We are very optimistic that not only will it be the largest, but that it will probably be the one that brings the most diversity,” Lopez noted.

Hot weather was an issue when the event was held outside last year, so Pride in the Park will be returning indoors this Summer.

Some of the attractions scheduled for this festival include live music, dance performances, a drag show, poetry readings, workshops, a room dedicated to LGBTQ RGV history, and the first-ever La Frontera Queer Film Fest. All the names of the performers will be announced at least 30 days prior to the event. There will also be tabling from many local organizations all day long.

In 2017, Pride in the Park ended with Girl in a Coma performing. This year, the festival is closing with a benefit drag show. The money raised during the drag show will go to benefit the campaign that is searching for Kimberly Avila (also known as Ramiro), a missing genderfluid person from Brownsville.

“We hope they will be found between now and June,” Lopez said. “But if they are not, )the money raised) will go toward the reward fund.”

Severn says that they are planning on working with the Pride in the Park sponsors to be more LGBTQ inclusive in their hiring practices and workplace climate.

“One thing that we are going to be working on, me and Oscar, is working with local and national businesses,” Severn said in terms of sponsors for Pride in the Park. “They are going to be sponsors at Pride in the Park, (and we are going to be) encouraging them to hire trans people and encouraging them to hire LGBTQ people. So what we will be doing later on in the year is offering more workshops for trans people (like) resume building, interview skills, things like that.”

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For Severn, she hopes people from all over the Valley give Pride in the Park a chance, and if they see anything that can be improved upon, STEP is always open to listen and make a change for the better.

“We are a welcoming and safe environment,” Severn said. “So we are encouraging people to come, and if there is anything that we are missing, let us know.”

What: Pride in the Park
Where: McAllen Convention Center
When: June 23, 3 PM to 10 PM
Cost: $5 for adults, children under 12 get in free.

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