Denise Rodgers said that, when the pandemic hit last year, she started sharing meals, water and toilet paper with her neighbors in Taylor.
“The only way I was surviving it was because of my neighbors, and I started thinking about the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) who stay in the shadows and don’t connect with their neighbors,” she said.
When she started a private Facebook group to help the LGBTQ community in Taylor, she said she was surprised by the response.
“We had 300 people join in two weeks time,” said Rodgers,who is bisexual and has a lesbian daughter and a transgender daughter. “Many had lived in town for decades and had never met another gay couple or another gay person. We decided in that moment that we wanted to celebrate pride in June,” she said.
Rodgers, who is a regional diversity and inclusivity director for Trane Technologies, said she helped organize a virtual Pride event in Taylor last year during the pandemic that it drew more than 4,000 viewers.
This Saturday. the event is going live with music, education, drag queen shows, speeches by local officials, a drag queen story hour and dances at four venues in downtown Taylor starting at 2 p.m.
“Williamson County has never had a gay Pride festival before like this,” said Rodgers. “We have the full support of our City Council and mayor as well,” she said. “I think part of it being held in Taylor has to do with the tremendous amount of growth and people migrating from Austin and more progressive cities.”
Taylor is in eastern Williamson County and had a population of more than 17,000 people in 2019, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census.
What is Gay Pride Month all about anyway?
Gay Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots in June 1969 in which people protested against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City.
Mayor Brandt Rydell said this week that he plans to speak at the event. “I think the message of inclusivity and acceptance is important,” he said.
“When people come to Taylor and they haven’t been to our town before, a couple of things stand out to them,” he said. “The words they use are authenticity and diversity. That’s what strikes them about our community and I think that carries over into Taylor Pride.”
Kate LeClair, the founder of a Leander grassroots group called Inclusive, Diversity and Equity for All Leander, said it has made a donation to the Taylor Pride festival.
“I think that’s amazing that the festival is going to be in Taylor,” she said. “It says a lot that a little small town would be the first to step up and make such an impact with representation. It’s a model for all of us.”
LeClair said the Leander grassroots LGBT group, which now has 578 members, plans to hold a Pride event in Leander next year. She said she founded IDEAL after a drag queen story hour scheduled at the Leander library in June 2019 drew more than 200 supporters and protesters.
From prayer to a pre-teen drag show, Taylor community reacts
The Taylor Pridefestival has drawn criticism from a local assistant pastor who is calling on church groups to pray during the event, which includes a pre-teen drag show featuring a sixth-grader whose stage name is Kween Kee Kee.
“Promoting a child to perform in this way is clearly sexualizing and we believe that it’s exploiting children and is inappropriate,” said Caleb Ripple, a pastoral assistant at Christ Fellowship Church in Taylor.
Ripple said he has encouraged churches to organize prayer groups all over the city during the Taylor Pride event. “This is not a protest,” said Ripple.
Rogers disagreed that having a sixth grader do a performance in drag was wrong.
“Her performance will be age-appropriate and will be no different than a dance recital or theatrical performance,” said Rogers. “Her parents will be in attendance and are very supportive of her.”
Rogers also said the the sixth grader will be reading a children’s book during a drag queen story hour, which is open to all ages.
Round Rock Pride festival in the works
Megyn Scott-Hintz, a Round Rock resident who said she plans to organize a Pride festival in her city next year, also disagreed with Ripple.
“Caleb Ripple clearly doesn’t understand what sexual exploitation is if he thinks a kid dressed up performing a simple dance routine and lip syncing, or reading a book, all things very typical of children to do, is inherently sexual in nature,” said Scott-Hintz.
Jose Orta, a gay resident of Taylor who will speak Saturday on the history of the LGBTQ movement, said the hundreds of signs of support for the Pride event posted in residents’ yards show that Taylor is a progressive community.
The signs feature six ducks in rainbow colors. The Taylor High School mascot is a duck.
“It warms my heart to see change happen. … There’s a huge Pride flag in downtown Taylor,” Orta said. “Who would have thunk this would be happening in Williamson County in 2021?”
For a full schedule of Taylor Prideevents, visit bit.ly/3wTrMTc.