11 Small Cities Packing a Big Punch for Their Pride Celebrations This Year
These Pride Month festivities will get you back in the party — and not just in the familiar out-and-proud metropolises, either.
After a virtual year, we're ready to go big for Pride. These festivities will get you back in the party — and not just in the familiar out-and-proud metropolises, either. Beyond the famed rainbow-clad enclaves in major Pride destinations like San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago, smaller cities and towns across the country are waving kaleidoscopic flags of their own, conducting vibrant parades and hosting inclusive festivals in states and regions where you’d least expect it. These states may be largely red, but their Pride festivals and parades showcase every color of the rainbow.
Support the LGBTQ community while you celebrate in Salt Lake City, Utah
For the largest hub in an infamously red state, Utah Pride Center does extensive work to support and uplift the LGBTQ community in Salt Lake City and beyond. This includes offering resources for mental health services, education, suicide prevention and programs for both youth and seniors, all made possible by donations and tickets purchased for its annual Pride events. Returning to in-person activities this year, albeit in a tweaked COVID-safe capacity, Pride Week still offers plenty of ways to celebrate from June 1-7. While food vendors and live entertainment are on hiatus until next year, 2021 offers a dynamic slate of events including the Pride Story Garden, which is an interactive outdoor exhibit sharing stories about LGBTQ+ history, the Rainbow March & Rally, flag raising ceremonies and Pride Interfaith Service, a virtual, music-filled religious gathering held June 2.
Join a month-long party with over 30 events in Des Moines, Iowa
Another unexpected capital city that goes big for Pride is Des Moines, Iowa, where Capital City Pride conducts LGBTQ events throughout the year, including an impressively hefty lineup for Pride Month in particular. This year, the non-profit organization has ballooned its typical weekend-long Pride Fest into a month-long spree it’s billing “30 Days of Pride,” with more than 30 different events held throughout the city. It’s a major shakeup from year’s past, when all the happenings were held in the East Village, a dispersed shift made in part out of COVID precautions, and to spread the rainbow-hued celebrations beyond a single neighborhood. Especially considering its broad slate of events, from a pet parade and the Fun Run to community yoga and the Pride Parade, it’s an apt opportunity to spread the love. It’s one of the more unique Pride events in the country, which includes atypical Pride programming like cooking classes, comedy nights, drag bingo and Progressive Worship Services.
Be there when 'RuPaul’s Drag Race'-inspired fun comes to Columbia, South Carolina
The deep South isn’t exactly known for its open-minded politics or its drag queen-starring Pride performances, but Columbia is quickly emerging as a haven for LGBTQ culture and connection. After all, this is a city that celebrates two different Pride festivals throughout the year, and proudly waves pink-and-blue transgender flags from the state house steps on Transgender Day of Visibility. While Pride Fest in South Carolina’s capital takes place in October, Outfest Columbia gets in on the Pride month action with a bevy of musical performances, vendors, and activities, all across the street from the downtown state house at The Vista. Getting back to pre-2020-style revelry (while adhering to COVID-safe protocols like mask mandates and hand sanitizing stations), the 2021 fest on June 5 is headlined by RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Utica Queen, with music and performances by the likes of Cierra Nichole and Leslie Lain.
Ring in Pride at an all-night block party in El Paso, Texas
When it comes to progressive politics in Texas, cities like Austin get much of the attention, but smaller, underrated cities like El Paso have played a crucial role in turning the state purple. Sun City Pride, a decade-old organization working to increase LGBTQ visibility in west Texas, is at the forefront of Texas’ progression. And what could be more visible than a block party? Pride is back in action this year with the 15th annual El Paso Sun City Pridefest Block Party, held June 19 at Raves Club, from 6 pm until the wee hours. Stacked with DJs, drag shows, food vendors, merch, cocktails and live performances on two main stages, there’s plenty to see, do, and celebrate at the outdoor event.
Party with queens (and kweens) in Manchester, New Hampshire
Compared to nearby New England states like Massachusetts and Vermont, New Hampshire was a bit slower to progress its LGBTQ-friendly politics. In Manchester, the state’s most populous city, June wasn’t recognized as Pride Month until 2018, and the first Queen City Pride Block Party didn’t occur until 2019. The resounding success of the festival paved the way for Queen City Pride to form as an organization, which has been conducting activities, meetings, and events throughout the year ever since. This year, the Queen City Pride Festival is back, taking place June 19 at Arms Park from 12-6 pm, providing a safe and joyous space for all New Hampshire queens — and kweens. The free-to-attend event is designed for all ages, featuring wholesome drag performances, music, cocktails, beer, and food.
Hear queer storytelling in Laramie, Wyoming
Home to one of the most infamous and horrific homophobic attacks in US history, where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead, the small Wyoming town of Laramie serves as a beacon of hope, and a symbol of how a community can strengthen and grow through tragedy and loss. The town established Laramie PrideFest in 2017, and it’s been hosting events and celebrations each subsequent summer. The marquis event for 2021 is Tales At The Taphouse, a queer storytelling series where members of Wyoming’s LGBTQ community are able to convene with friends and allies, and share personal stories in a safe, welcoming space. This year’s event, titled “Called To Action: Courage and Community,” is to be held June 22 at 7pm at Train Depot. It’s free to attend, and stories run about 10 minutes each. Prepare to feel inspired.
Enjoy festivities from downtown to the river in OKC
After last year’s Pride events went virtual, Oklahoma City’s OKC Pride festivities are returning to in-person pageantry this June, and with a move to a much larger and centralized locale, it’s looking bigger and brighter than ever. Taking place June 25-27 at newly minted Scissortail Park, a 40-acre urban oasis connecting downtown to the Oklahoma River, 2021 marks the first time OKC Pride has taken place downtown, enhancing the spotlight on a festival that’s been largely confined to a small strip of gay-friendly businesses and bars along NW 39th Street. Pridefest will be packed with weekend-long vendors, food, and entertainment. The OKC Pride Alliance Parade takes place at 10 am on June 26, roving through the Arts District before culminating on the west side of the park.
March to the music with food and booze in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
South Dakota: come for the National Monuments, stay for the surprisingly robust Pride Parade. On the east side of the state, in South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls Pride brings a pop of color and inclusivity to a region of the U.S. that’s way too often deemed as “flyover country,” perhaps especially for members of the LGBTQ community. The symbol of the organization, a rainbow buffalo, perfectly encompasses the mission of Sioux Falls Pride: to provide a welcoming and inclusive space for LGBTQ people in an area that may not seem as safe as, say, West Hollywood. The biggest Pride celebration in South Dakota, Sioux Falls Pride is capped by a downtown parade that’s seen its attendance soar in recent years, attracting families and allies for marching music and adjoining activities like food vendors and outdoor performances. This year’s parade takes place June 26 at 10 am, immediately followed by Pride in the Park at Cherapa Place, a larger location from year’s past to accommodate the heartwarming uptick in attendance. Here, from 11 am - 5 pm, attendees can visit food trucks and a beer garden, check out the kids corner and take in a drag show.
Jump into the summertime fete in Biloxi, Mississippi
The June forecast on the Mississippi Gulf Coast looks like humidity with a 100% chance of rainbows. Pride Day is back for 2021, courtesy of Biloxi-based Gulf Coast Association of Pride, a non-profit that toils year-round to provide healthy and uplifting resources for the LGBTQ community in southern Mississippi, culminating with an annual summertime fete filled with music, DJs, guest speakers, food, art, drag showcases, and kid-friendly frivolity such as face painting and a splash pad. This year’s event takes place June 26 from 11am - 6pm at Point Cadet Plaza.
Support LGBTQ youth in Omaha, Nebraska
Since 2010, Heartland Pride has been putting the “heart” in America’s Heartland. After originating as a task force to strive for inclusion in a region of the country in sore need of it, Heartland Pride has grown into a 501(c) non-profit organization all its own, celebrating Pride in Nebraska’s largest city. It’s a region known more for cornfields than Pride parades, but each July, Omaha comes aglow with events like the only Youth Pride in Nebraska and a lively all-day Pride Festival. The theme of this year’s Pride festivities, “Let’s Get Back 2gether,” is an apt one that illustrates the parallels between emerging from a pandemic and the opportunities for connectivity and freedom that members of the LGBTQ community seek to find. This year’s events include Youth Pride — geared towards teenagers and their guardians — on July 9 at the Baxter Arena, followed by the 2021 Heartland Pride Parade the next day, which runs through the Old Market neighborhood at 10 am. The main Festival then takes place at Baxter Arena from 12-10:30 pm, anchored by family-friendly outdoor activities and live music on the main stage.
Take in queer comedy and street drag in Big Sky, Montana
Most folks visit southern Montana for epic hiking and skiing, but once summer hits its peak, there’s more to Big Sky than mountainous panoramas. Just as beautiful is its convivial downtown Pride parade, which takes place July 17 at 11 am, lending some luster to a corner of the country not often highlighted for its vibrant LGBTQ community. Big Sky’s big parade — and adjoining Pride activities which go all month long — are here to debunk the stereotypes. The Parade is pure riotous joy, as it weaves through the streets to Anchor Park, which serves as the setting for a post-parade rally led by local government leaders and LGBTQ advocates. Other activities include a rainbow-colored kid’s T-shirt party at the Holter Museum of Art that same afternoon, and more Pride activities in July like a street drag show at Last Chance Gulch (July 16), the Perfectly Queer Comedy Show at the Holter Museum of Art (July 15) and Margaritas & Manicures at Kismet Nail Bar (July 12).
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