LGBT people and their allies in and around Tyler will gather Sunday, May 22, in Tyler’s Bergfeld Park for the “Deport Hate: Bike or Hike Pride Ride.”
The gathering is being staged to “show some love” to a bicyclist who rides regularly through the city’s Azalea District, near the park, wearing a shirt that says “Deport LGBT.”
“This isn’t a gay pride rally, though the themes are to show LGBT faces and our allies,” organizer Hannah Morris wrote on the Facebook page announcing the event. “This is pride in our city, in our relationships with each other, in how we handle ugliness. And in Tyler, Texas, we come together and show support for one another to handle ugliness. Because we are proud citizens of this beautiful city.”
Bergfeld Park, located near the center of town, is the park from which 23-year-old Nicholas West was abducted in 1993 before being driven to a gravel pit in Noonday and brutally murdered. His death made national headlines and helped spark efforts to pass an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill in Texas.
Jenell Volmer, who grew up in Tyler and was friends with Nicholas West, now lives in Austin. But she said she will be returning to her hometown for the rally on Sunday.
“I came out on the front page of the Tyler paper after being interviewed at the Stop the Hate Rally we held after Nick was killed. I became an activist for a short period but my career took off and I gladly moved away from Tyler. … I still struggle with the emotions from that time and it continues to impact me to this day,” Volmer told Dallas Voice in an email, explaining why she will be returning to Tyler to attend the rally.
In a post on Facebook, Volmer noted that she was bullied and harassed and even assaulted in high school because she was gay. She said another classmate was “chased down by a car and shot in the head,” because he was gay. And while those events and Nicholas West’s murder happened more than 20 years ago, the cyclist’s jersey and the January 2015 murder of trans woman Ty Underwood in Tyler prove the hate still exists.
“I plan to show up in Tyler this Sunday on Harvey Milk’s birthday to join this event to peacefully show East Texas that families and every day people oppose this message of exclusion and hate,” Volmer wrote. “Please join me in Tyler.”
The event begins at 11 a.m. at the park, at 1510 S. College St. in Tyler. Participants who are willing and able will participate in a hike or bike excursion along a route through the Azalea District that’s less than a mile long and chosen with those who are differently-abled in mind. After the bike/hike, participants return to the park to continue with their picnic.
Organizers have asked that those who attend keep in mind that this a peaceful gathering, intended to not be confrontational but rather show the diverse face of the LGBT community to the Tyler community at large. They have asked that those attending be mindful of not littering (no confetti please) and that if they encounter the “Deport LGBT” cyclist, not to engage him in any way.
They also encourage participants to wear “their fanciest handmade ‘DEPORT HATE’ shirts.”