PRIDE festival sees large crowds, record number of vendors

Published: Jul. 9, 2016 at 9:59 PM MDT
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A local group is celebrating their differences - just days after police were targeted in Dallas - and weeks after the LGBT community was struck in Orlando.

The PRIDE Festival took over Wilson park - with one of its largest events ever.

James Cook, a volunteer for the Black Hills Center for Equality, said "Everybody should be proud of themselves no matter who they are or what they are. That's the whole purpose of this event ."

The LGBT community is rallying, Saturday - with a year of landmark wins to celebrate - including defeating the bathroom bill - and legalizing gay marriage.

Larence Novotny, the chair of Equality South Dakota, said "The trends are changing. The people here are a lot more willing to step forward and come out."

About 15 more vendor booths came to this year's event compared to 2015.

And organizers say they had a jump in attendance.

Nancy Rosenbrahn, the president of the Black Hills Center for Equality, said "The LGBT community - we get courage and get strength. We feel brave when we are together in numbers."

But, the community is still mourning the devastating blow in Orlando.

A memorial welcomed visitors here, Saturday.

Rosenbrahn said "We all stop at those flags up there - the memorial we have - and it all takes our breath away."

The Black Hills Center for Equality beefed up security - with extra officers on hand during the event.

And this, just days after the horrific shooting in Dallas.

Rosenbrahn said "We are an other group, and there are people who don't like us. So, the relationship with the police department is the best part out of this whole thing."

Nancy Rosenbrahn says the Mount Rushmore State still has a ways to go towards inclusion.

Rosenbrahn said "We know that there's a whole hidden population that won't come to the park."

Organizers say employees can be fired for being gay in South Dakota.

Cook said "People are a little more subdued out here. They're not so open and 'hey look at me, I'm free.'"

But they're taking a step forward - with many corporate companies making an appearance for the first time, Saturday.

Willie Lyons, a member of the Ellsworth Diversity Council, said "Support to show the community love and support one another."

The event continues with an after party at the Ramkota, Saturday night.

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