Nearly 40 community groups, businesses and other organizations came together to share a message of love and acceptance Saturday in Pecan Grove Park as Grayson Pride held its first festival in Grayson County. Organizers for the event said the purpose was to spread the message of acceptance for the regions local LGBT community.


“Pride is pretty much an organization to tell the community that they are loved regardless of their sexuality or gender identification,” Vendor Coordinator Eric McInnis said.


Saturday’s event was one of many taking place throughout the month of June as a part of LGBT Pride month. The marches and festivals are held each year in remembrance of Stonewall riots — a series of demonstrations in 1969 following a police raid of a gay bar in New York City, a major event in the LGBT rights movement.


Despite the festive atmosphere, organizers said the event also was aimed at bringing attention to the struggle that the community has experienced over the years in the fight for equal rights.


Grayson Pride President Valerie Fox said the flags at the event were at half mast in honor of several transgender women who have been killed in Dallas in recent weeks. Among those who were killed was Muhlaysia Booker, who drew national attention in April after cell phone video of her being attacked in Dallas surfaced.


Other messages that organizers hoped to convey included a sense of unity and inclusiveness. Fox said many people do not realize that they are not alone in their feelings and experiences.


“The community here, the gay community, is bigger than most think it is,” she said.


This year’s event included a children’s play area, live entertainment, food trucks and vendors alongside booths for organizations offering resources to the community. Among the organizations offering services Saturday was Hug it Out Dallas, who offered “mom hugs” to those who needed them.


Angel Sens said she first founded the group as a way to support LGBT youth who may not have strong support networks and have been kicked out of their homes because of their orientation.


“There are a lot of youth that have nowhere to go when their families reject them because of their lifestyle choices,” she said, estimating that 30 percent of LGBT youth experience homelessness.


Sens said she has attended many Pride events, including a large one in Dallas last week. By comparison, she said the Grayson County gathering was much smaller, but that gave the event a much more intimate and personal feel.


“It is neat to come up here because you get to connect more,” she said.


Aaron Brown, who represented The Church at Texoma, agreed that Pride was about connecting as a community. The non-denominational christian group first opened earlier this year on Grand Avenue.


“Our mission really was to have a safe place,” he said. “There were churches in the community that said they were welcoming but they were not affirming of those relationships.”


Brown said he took comfort in both his faith and sexuality from the Beatitudes, a list of blessings that Jesus recounted in his Sermon on the Mount, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Among the blessed are those who have been persecuted, Jesus said.


“God loves you because of who you are and not in spite of it,” he said.


Michael Hutchins is a reporter with the Herald Democrat. He can be contacted at MHutchins@HeraldDemocrat.com.