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Pride St. Louis aims to create a bigger tent and increase political muscle

PrideFest-goers in 2014 celebrated a second festival in downtown St. Louis, after many years of holidng it in Tower Grove Park.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
PrideFest attendees celebrate in downtown St. Louis in 2014

“Solidarity” is the theme for this year’s PrideFest celebration at Soldiers' Memorial downtown.

Members of Pride St. Louis chose the theme to unite the LGBT community at a critical time, according to Pride St. Louis’ director of inclusion and diversity Leon Braxton.

The community is facing a number of issues, she said, including:

  • Fighting legislation that proposes a constitutional amendment allowing businesses to refuse work involving same-sex weddings
  • Supporting the at-risk population of transgender women of color
  • Passing laws to protect LGBT people in employment and housing

Braxton said the community can accomplish more if it can work on its own internal discrimination around race, class, gender identity and age.
“We’ve got to start uplifting and empowering each other and stop tearing each other down,” she said.

'We became the family'

Pride St. Louis' theme of unity is designed to cast a wider net of support, with a particular focus on transgender women of color.A record number of these individuals died violent deaths last year.

“We have to stand together and say ‘Hey world, you’re not going to kill our sisters,’” Braxton said. 

Pride St. Louis director of diversity and inclusion Leon Braxton
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
Pride St. Louis director of diversity and inclusion Leon Braxton

 She said the movement needs to look back to the 1980s.

“When people got sick with AIDS, we, as a community took each other in; we became the family," Braxton said.

The call for unity comes at a time when the law lets same-sex couples marry but still allows them to be fired for identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, Braxton said.

“As a community, we need to stand in solidarity and say, ‘We’re not going to take this anymore,'” she said.

Show-Me State leading the way?

The unity Braxton is seeking could be especially important in upcoming election cycles.

The full Missouri Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 39 last week. Approval of the constitutional amendment that would allow businesses to opt out of providing wedding services to same-sex couples came after a Democratic filibuster that lasted almost 40 hours.

If passed by the House, the amendment could go on the ballot for a public vote sometime this year.

Win or lose, Braxton said, the final decision will not only affect Missourians, but also shape a national trend.

“Because if the Show-Me State passes a bill like this, guess what the rest of the country’s going to do? They’re going to do the same thing," she said. "We have to start setting up precedents and stop these actions and this bill.”

Supporters say the bill would protect religious liberties.

PrideFest 2016 will take place Friday through Sunday, June 24-26. The celebration typically draws more than 100,000 people.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.