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Pride parade, festival coming to SoMa

Marchers unfurl a rainbow flag at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., in June.
Carolyn Kaster
Marchers unfurl a rainbow flag at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., in June.

Little Rock's SoMa neighborhood is kicking off June with a day of festivities celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. It’s the first time the nonprofit Central Arkansas Pride is organizing a parade in June, or Pride Month. For years, the nonprofit has held pride celebrations in October during LGBTQ history month.

Joe Johnson is communications director for Central Arkansas Pride. In his eyes, the addition of a parade in June ties in to their mission of celebrating pride “365 days a year.”

“This is really a groundbreaking event for Central Arkansas, particularly in Little Rock.'' Johnson said. “We’re actually able to realize an LGBTQIA celebration during Pride Month.”

According to Johnson, the local queer community has been asking for a Pride celebration in Little Rock for years.

“It’s just really going to be a celebration and an event that people can come together and be visible, be heard, be seen,” Johnson said. “That’s something that’s really important for our community.”

The celebration is in partnership with SoMa 501, the nonprofit branch responsible for events and development in Little Rock's South Main Street neighborhood.

SoMa 501 Executive Director Elizabeth Michael says she’s excited to see how the community comes together and shows their creativity.

“We always have different prizes for the parade participants.” she said. “I’m really hoping that folks register for the parades, register to be vendors, register as sponsors, however they want to get involved and really bring their A game.”

Dolores Wilk, executive director of Central Arkansas Pride, said it’s important to have local events because not everyone can travel to larger festivals.

“With Pride, we get to be out in a safe environment and be able to have that safe space where we can celebrate who we are as a community.”

Wilk said LGBTQ+ people “need the visibility” that Pride gives them, especially in Arkansas. 

Many Arkansas lawmakers have openly supported policies activists say target LGBTQ+ Communities.

Recently, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved a rule reversing the state policy on gender-neutral driver’s licenses and ID’s. For the past 14 years, Arkansans were able to put “X” instead of “M” or “F” on their legal ID’s. The rule put forward by the Department of Finance and Administration removes “X” as an option.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the rule on behalf of five plaintiffs who don’t identify as exclusively male or female. ACLU Arkansas Legal Director John Williams said the rule change creates a “real and immediate danger to the wellbeing of our plaintiffs and other transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people, for whom accurate identification is not just a matter of dignity, but of personal security.”

In the meantime, supporters like Dolores Wilk are determined to strengthen their ties in the community.

“We are everywhere, and we’re not going to be erased. And that’s what the legislation has tried to do to us, or push us in the back corner.” they said.

The day-long “SoMa Pride” will run from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on June 1. SoMa’s Main Street will be blocked off for the day. Information about vendors, events, and how to get involved is online at somalittlerock.com/somapride.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.
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