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Orlando gives added meaning to Pride St. Louis solidarity theme

Transgender and LGBT minority groups were brought to the front of the Pride Parade Sunday in downtown St. Louis.

The drums and chants of QTPOC — Queer Trans People of Color — followed immediately after two men carrying a banner in memory of the 49 people killed at a gay nightclub two weeks ago in Orlando.

A little later on cheers went up as the Metro Trans Umbrella Group came into view. The cheers kept going as two people carrying umbrellas played to the crowd, and were still going strong when St. Louis’ Black Pride organization stepped into view.

Last year the Metro Trans Umbrella Group was sent out at the end of the hours-long parade.

“We were hurt and upset and we used it as a learning moment,” said Metro Trans Umbrella Group founder Sayer Johnson. “We worked with Pride throughout this year, had town halls, had intentional conversations.”

The result, Johnson said, was that his organization feels seen this year.

“Is it perfect? No. Has there been a great deal of progress? Yes. As a transgender person who’s been out in St. Louis for a little over eight years, this is the most visible trans presence I’ve ever been a part of or seen,” Johnson said.

QTPOC and the Umbrella Group also had a designated spot on the Pride St. Louis festival grounds labeled on the map as a “trans safer space.”

Johnson said it was a place people could go for resources and was another part of being more visible in the LGBT community. 

The groups were placed right next to a memorial quilt people could sign for Orlando, and a row of flags with the names of the shooting victims listed one by one.

Johnson said he thought the close placement was fitting.

“We are a community of humans that grieves every day and we face trauma and we are fearful for our lives every day. And so maybe there’s a sense of comfort in being here because this is nothing new for us. Orlando was tragic. Trans women of color in particular face that every day,” Johnson said.

Pride St. Louis chose solidarity as the theme for this year’s festival as part of an intentional increase in focus on transgender people and people of color.

Parade goers interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio didn’t notice a change — but they did notice the large blue, pink and white transgender flag carried by the Metro Trans Umbrella Group.

Zoe Erb said she told her friend Keelin Benedicto what the flag symbolized.

“She had no idea. And I was like oh, yeah, St. Louis is like the third city to fly that. So that was really awesome to see, just so many people carrying this giant, giant flag,” Erb said.

Erb said she knew people who thought about staying home after the Orlando shooting. Benedicto said she had the opposite reaction; hearing about the shooting affirmed her decision to drive across the state to see the parade from her home in Kansas City.

Patrick Cullen brought his rainbow "Don't Tread on Me" flag as a response to the Orlando shooting.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Patrick Cullen brought his rainbow "Don't Tread on Me" flag as a response to the Orlando shooting.

Parade-goer Patrick Cullen said the theme of solidarity rang true especially since Orlando. He thought more people showed up to the parade this year in response to the tragedy.

“I’m not as familiar with the trans groups but I noticed them in the parade, because their flag is a little bit different,” Cullen said.

Leroy Kaymore, meanwhile, said the parade was smaller this year than last year, again probably because of Orlando.

Lashonda Smith drove up from Arkansas to go to Pride St. Louis.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Lashonda Smith drove up from Arkansas to go to Pride St. Louis.

 Lashonda Smith said she was just happy to see the crowd and experience the parade.

“I drove six, seven hours just to come down here and I’m loving it. It’s hot but I’m loving it. It makes me feel like there’s more than one gay person in the world,” Smith said.

“You only live once,” Smith said, adding that the Orlando shooting was part of the reason why she wanted to come.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.