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story.lead_photo.caption Gary McClaskey (from left), Anna Rainey and Derry Jacob lead the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade up Dickson Street on Saturday in Fayetteville. - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette / MICHAEL WOODS • @NWAMICHAELW

FAYETTEVILLE -- Held in the wake of the country's deadliest mass shooting, the 10th annual Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade had an air of defiance as parade officials and participants wanted to display courage and acceptance.

Photo by MICHAEL WOODS • @NWAMICHAELW / NWA Democrat-Gazette
Participants in the Northwest Arkansas Pride parade make their way up Dickson Street on Saturday in Fayetteville. The 10th annual NWA Pride Festival and Rally featured a variety of events including the parade, vendors, information booths, speakers and food.
Photo by MICHAEL WOODS • @NWAMICHAELW / NWA Democrat-Gazette
Participants in the Northwest Arkansas Pride parade make their way up Dickson Street on Saturday in Fayetteville. The 10th annual NWA Pride Festival and Rally featured a variety of events including the parade, vendors, information booths, speakers and food.
Photo by Michael Woods
Roxie Howard of Holiday Island waves to spectators Saturday during the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade in Fayetteville.

"The thoughts (of the shooting) are on a lot of people's minds," said Joney Harper, a former parade organizer and one of this year's grand marshals. "We had to come out to show we're not afraid."

Celebrating history

Susan Hartman, operations and programs manager with the NWA Center for Equality recognized Joney Harper, Ken Boyle and Norman Hadley for their efforts in promoting pride events in Northwest Arkansas. Boyle founded NWA Pride in 2007. Hartman, who recently returned to Arkansas, said she was thrilled to be part of this year’s celebration.

“I’m an old dog. I remember our pride events of the ’80s and early ’90s. I’m just so pleased to see that this is still going on.”

Source: Staff report

Led by a trio of bikers, Harper was followed by roughly 2,000 marchers carrying messages of hope and floats adorned with rainbow flags as the parade glided down Dickson Street toward the Old Main lawn.

Hundreds gathered on the sidewalk or watched from cafes as the parade moved past, cheering and clapping as it advanced. A flag near the front of the parade memorialized the victims of the massacre in Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub.

Those not in the parade held up their own messages of solidarity, displaying signs that read "we are not afraid," and "no hate."

Harper, who helped organize the inaugural parade, said it helps bring attention to issues facing the LGBTIQ community.

"People ask me why we have parades," Harper said. "We're bringing attention to bathroom bills, religious liberty laws and inequality in the workplace."

"The parade lets residents know we're here. We're their brothers and sisters, their neighbors and co-workers," Harper added.

A rogue thunderstorm just before the parade began left most participants soggy, but organizers called Saturday's event a "huge success."

While the rain deterred some people, Jordan Garcia estimated between 5,000 and 6,000 people attended. Garcia is a board member with the NWA Center for Equality.

For Dylan Jones and Brittany Edwards, the downpour provided an opportunity to get involved with the parade. The pair saw that organizers had fewer people than expected to carry an enormous rainbow flag, so they volunteered.

"It was really invigorating," Jones said.

The parade ended near the steps of Old Main, but gave way to a large rally that included local vendors, live music, food and guest speakers. By then the rain had cleared and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan took the stage to proclaim June 16-19 as Pride Days.

"It may have been a little cloudy and rainy, but all I saw today was a rainbow in everybody," Jordan said after a brief embrace with Garcia. "We stand together today to break down the stone walls of discrimination and seek to wield love stronger than hate and hope more powerful than insult or injury."

"I have long believed that rights of every human being rests on equality, diversity and inclusion ... and without equality, diversity and inclusion we have no rights," Jordan added to thunderous applause.

Harper, who now lives in North Carolina, was pleased to see the impact NWA Pride has had on Northwest Arkansas.

What started as a parade has since grown into a multi-day celebration that includes festivals, rallies and pub crawls to promote acceptance. It's the state's largest pride celebration, according to the organization's website.

"We started with three people," Harper said. "It's good to see the hard work paid off."

NW News on 06/19/2016

Print Headline: Thousands flock to 10th annual NWA Pride celebration

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