The City of Hattiesburg celebrated the seventh annual Pine Belt Pride last week, a week dedicated to bringing visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. Pine Belt Pride offers a unique opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community in Hattiesburg to come together in a safe place.
Pine Belt Pride is presented by The Spectrum Center, the first and only LGBTQ+ community center in Mississippi. Pine Belt Pride first began in 2014 and has since become a valuable resource for the LGBTQ+ community of Hattiesburg.
“Each year we strive to create a space for those who may not feel comfortable navigating spaces that are not queer spaces,” Keenon Walker, President of The Spectrum Center, said. “Local Pride celebrations bring much needed visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. I want to continue building a sense of community, so people can know they are not alone.”
Pride in any city is important in creating a welcoming and loving environment for its LGBTQ+ residents and those visiting. Pine Belt Pride achieved just that.
“You get to see the people that are unseen,” said Will Parrish, a nurse visiting from central Mississippi. “It gives them the chance to come out here, be who they really are, and not be ashamed of it in Mississippi.”
People traveled from all over to show their pride in Hattiesburg this week. “Visibility is key to progress in this state,” said Jay Barnhart, a pharmacist who traveled all the way from Jackson, Mississippi. Barnhart attended Jackson Pride the previous week and was thrilled to support Pine Belt Pride.
“Supporting organizations and events like this help bring our awareness to the cities in which we visit,” Barnhart said.
The week started with a kick-off cookout on Monday, Oct. 4, and consisted of a different event every night leading up to Pride in the Park on Saturday. Pride in the Park was held at the Town Square Park with 40 vendors, a march through downtown, live music and a drag show.
Pine Belt Pride, with the help of sponsors, creates a fun and safe environment, while also fundraising for Pride events that happen throughout the year at The Spectrum Center. The proceeds from this year will go towards a new roof at The Spectrum Center.
“As the event grows, I hope to see more acceptance, more support, and with luck, more kindness. and who knows, one day we could have a full Pride parade,” Walker said.