Black Hills Pride creates safe space for LGBTQ community

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Rapid City, SD They were celebrating being their authentic selves in a safe and inclusive environment.

The 6th annual Black Hills Pride Festival took place in Memorial Park Saturday afternoon and it was organizers say it was a great experience for everyone involved.

< Michael Hanson, Black Hills Center for Equality president says, "Its a festival so the LGBT community can come together and feel safe and feel welcome as a community."

The Black Hills Pride Festival started with humble beginnings but has since grown to around 2,500 visitors this year.

Brett Ray, local author says,"There are people here that remember Pride being one table and ten people and now we got thousands and so its a really cool way to see how much we've grown over the years."

There were plenty of vendors and entertainment for their aim of celebrating love and being true to yourself.

Persephone Shakers, Miss Gay Nebraska says, "I was told that there's not a very big drag community in Rapid City so I'm glad to be able to bring what I do and what I bring back home to Rapid City."

Pride is designed to provide a unique, judgment free and safe venue for anyone and everyone to celebrate love and their identity.

Shakers says, "its just a way of helping to celebrate who we are as a people whether we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Native American, black, white, no matter what color we are, if you're any of those things we're celebrating who we are."

Ray says,"I think it's a place to be able to come out and be visible and it's safe because there are so many of us and it's a place to come be together as family because we are one big queer family."

and for some ... pride has truly become part of their family.

Kendra Heathscott, TransAction South Dakota board member says, "I lost my mom this past year my dad passed away a few years ago and this is the only family that I have so Pride means to me ultimately family."

Feeling accepted in a conservative community can be difficult but many agree Rapid City is moving in the right direction.

Ray says, "Its really interesting because politically its really challenging in South Dakota but when it comes down to the people, the reality is that the people of Rapid City are so good and for the most part they love people really well I mean you can tell just by looking around Pride. Its huge this year."

And organizers say they plan to stick around despite some opposition.

Healthscott says, "I think it just shows those folks that maybe not agree with us and who we are and who we are authentically, it shows them that we're not going to be silent and we're going to take a space as long as we're here."