Deborah Moncrief Bell | Contributing Writer
While larger Texas cities have long enjoyed large gatherings and parades celebrating “Pride Month,” the tiny central Texas town of Belton hosted the first-ever Pride event in Bell County on Saturday, June 20. Although Pride events for LGBT servicemembers have been held at Fort Hood Military Base, which is located in the county, this was the first public gathering of its kind.
Organized by the Central Texas Stonewall Democrats, the rally took place in front of the historic Bell County courthouse. Early arrivals stood on the corner with signs urging supporters to honk to show support. A little girl attending the event took a tally of the honks and counted more than 200 in a one-hour period.
The event was organized in part to celebrate June as the traditional National Pride Month. The other reason for the gathering is in recognition of the expected decision by the Supreme Court regarding marriage equality. The decision will be handed down Friday, June 26 or Monday, June 29, and will determine whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
The courthouse was chosen as the rally location since it is where marriage licenses are issued. Brochures provided information on Bell County marriage license requirements that included a phone number to report any sexual orientation discrimination by city, county or state employees.
About 50 people attended the rally to hear a number of speeches and share in camaraderie. Irene Andrews, one of the principal organizers, served as emcee, and co-organizer Dion McFall served as DJ. After hearing some lively music and a general meet-and-greet session, Andrews talked about the importance of marriage equality, sharing the story of her own 31-year-relationship with her partner, Joan Hinshaw, and how they were legally married in 2013 in Washington State.
Raymond Arsenault and Randy Broussard talked about their partnership and eventual marriage in Maui and the way the legality of their marriage has impacted their lives, such as being able to file a joint tax return. But there are still some areas where their partnership is not protected because Texas does not allow same-sex marriages — yet.
Ricky Hicks, a meteorology student at Central Texas College and president of the Gay and Straight Alliance there, talked of his journey to acceptance of himself as a gay man. The views of his parents and of their church had him feeling afraid and isolated, and he prayed to be changed.
Hicks said he tried to “man up” and even did a stint in the military. The end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” encouraged him to start the coming out process, and he finally built up the courage to tell his grandfather, with whom he was particularly close. He said the love and support his grandparents gave him helped him accept himself and be proud of who he is.
Keynote speaker at the rally was state Rep. Celia Israel of District 50 in Austin. An out lesbian and longtime, fierce advocate for civil rights, Israel reported on some of the anti-gay bills that were stymied in the most recent session of the Texas Legislature.
Carmen Saenz of Waco, located in McLennan County just north of Bell County, announced plans for a rally to take place in Waco’s Heritage Park, at Third Street and Austin Avenue at 6 p.m. the day the Supreme Court hands down its marriage ruling.
Andrews closing words were, “My wife Joan and I have waited many years for this first Pride event in Bell County. Finally, we didn’t have to travel to Dallas or Austin to be part of an LGBTQ community to celebrate Pride.
“I’m honored that so many youth and straight allies attended this gathering. And yet there is so much work to be done to ensure real justice for all,” Andrews continued. “We won’t stop working for full federal equality and protection under the law until all our LGBT brothers and sisters are safe and free to live and work without fear of discrimination and violence.
“The freedom to marry ‘Day of Decision’ is coming very soon. I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear the good news. Love will win! Let the weddings begin!”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2015.