I have been fortunate enough to travel a good deal around the country and after growing up in Beaumont I never considered my hometown to be a bastion of progressivism. But, as the rest of the country begins to end it's social stigma against the LGBT community Southeast Texans gathered celebrate its first ever Pride Parade.
Beaumont is community with its own rich history and culture, but hasn't been, at least in the past, as tolerant of others. I remember in the not so distant past when every member of an alternative lifestyle, whether a rockin' roller or an LGBT individual, pretty much stuck together in a handful of hangouts.
See how Pride went over in Beaumont below the jump…In fact I turned 21 in a “gay bar” called the Copa which has recently reopened under the name “Xclusive.” At the time, far from exclusive, it was one of just a few venues that allowed local musicians to play, another was a “lesbian bar” called Hooligans.
One of my oldest memories in politics was of my openly gay friend who was an active member of the Democratic Party who helped guide and shape my views to recognize the importance of fighting for the equality of all people. It wasn't the friendliest place to be “out” but all his hard work has surely paid off. Now the community in Southeast Texas even has an active Stonewall chapter.
Like every civil rights struggle the movement has had its ups and downs. The Pride event that went off without protest is surely a highlight but other incidents show there is still work to be done. It wasn't but two years ago that an entire program was shut down at Beaumont ISD because one student who attended appeared to be homosexual to the dismay of the principal. And, even more recently a transgender teacher in Lumberton was relieved of her duties because some parents were offended by her presence in the classroom.
Judging from friends pictures and comments on Facebook the event seemed like it went off without a hitch. I asked a few individuals for comment and they all mentioned seeing people in tears of joy.
“Having this event is actually a community-building activity,” Jacqueline Hays, Beaumont Pride Committee member, says. “You have every category from the queer community – LGBTQIA – and allies. We have everyone from babies in diapers to grandmas and grandpas with gray hair walking around out here.”
Former State Representative Glen Maxey attended, he is also the state's first openly gay legislator. He told me, “The importance of these kinds of events in places like Beaumont, is that the only thing that really has moved the needle on attitudes on non-discrimination protections or marriage equality, is that people know their LGBTQ neighbors.”
The pace of progress has been rapid relatively speaking as state after state has their ban on marriage equality ruled unconstitutional. Unfortunately the GOP, especially the Texas GOP, has only fought against the call for equality. Moving in the opposite direction adding gay conversion therapy to its platform and denying gay conservatives a table at their convention this year.
There was a time when I thought Beaumont was stuck in a bygone era, now I think it may just be the Republican Party. One thing is for sure — I'm proud to be from Beaumont.
You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.