Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Word of the day: Pride
1. The quality or state of being proud, such as:
a. inordinate self-esteem;
b. a reasonable or justifiable self-respect;
c. delight or elation arising from some act, possession or relationship.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Pride. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pride
You may have noticed the sea of about 150 people dressed in rainbow strolling downtown Hot Springs the evening of June 4, but in case you missed it, there was a beautiful and proud display of the local LGBTQ+* community.
LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations are held worldwide in June annually, and have been since the 1969 raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City**, which was a leading factor to the fight for queer rights in America. Fast forward 50 years, Hot Springs joined in on the celebration, and held its first Pride walk. In the third year of the walk, this was the largest turnout so far. Superior Bathhouse Brewery General Manager and Operator Katie Windham told The Post about her experience living in Hot Springs as a lesbian, and how exhibits of Pride well-received in the community reinforces her idea of Hot Springs being a welcoming place to all.
Windham, who moved to Hot Springs from Austin, Texas almost four years ago, said she had never even been to Arkansas before. She was blown away upon her arrival, saying, “coming here from a very open, progressive city I was kind of worried, and I think this town is ... one of the most accepting places that I’ve seen in the state."
She describes Austin as being an oasis in Texas for the LGBTQ+ community, and in comparison feels Hot Springs and Little Rock are those oases for Arkansas. At Superior, where the staff is diverse, Windham said she has had non-locals who come in ask about the area's LGBTQ+ acceptance.
“I’ve been asked multiple times by out-of-towners ‘Is it safe here? Can we walk up and down the street holding hands?’ And my answer is yes because I think the more we spread that word and put that energy out there, it’s going to help build the culture here.”
The importance of building that culture is to the benefit of local LGBTQ+ youth.
“As a gay woman that runs a very successful business in town, it shows the youth that if they feel like they have to hide, or people who are gay can’t be successful or do anything big ... there’s so many gay owned and operated businesses in this town,” Windham said.
At Superior, keeping a very diverse staff is the goal, exemplifying an inclusive work environment to local LGBTQ+ youth.
“From race, gay, bi, straight, trans; we kind of are very inclusive of everybody here, and I set that culture, and wanted that culture, because I feel like towns like this need workplaces for people who may not have gotten a job because of their sexual orientation,” she said. “(They) can come in and apply and feel safe. ... I feel like just reaching the youth and employing them and showing them that we are no different than anyone else, we have jobs and lives and families like everybody else does, and we contribute to the success of this community. And when everybody embraces that and people are allies, I feel like that just sets a tone, and could really help someone whose younger that might be struggling with their identity and whether or not they can come out and be open; whether it be fear of acceptance, or their parents that might have told them their life is going to be so hard if they’re gay, which isn’t the case. I mean there’s struggles, but I think if we send that message and the more people that show acceptance then the more lives we can change.”
Windham, now 37, said she grew up in the Hill Country part of Texas where she experienced first-hand what it’s like not be accepted in a community as a queer woman.
“I grew up in a town of 400 people in the Hill Country part of Texas, It’s a town called Leakey. I was homecoming queen, I played volleyball in college; you know, like the perfect, I feel like your definition of straight woman by all means, and I came out to my parents in college, and it was really hard. They didn’t agree with it for the longest time, and now my parents are my biggest supporters. I think my mom probably talks to Traci (her partner), more than she talks to me, at this point. But it was hard, especially in a smalltown. I would go home once people figured out — you know, word in a small town travels pretty quickly, so there were people that would every time I’d come home prior to that would ask how was going, and going to the local grocery store, they would just walk right past me, and that’s still the case in that town. It’s not easy to go home, for that reason, I mean it’s very conservative. It’s definitely not like a small town here that’s very progressive.”
Windham describes Hot Springs as being welcoming and inclusive, and even holds a position on the board of the Hot Springs LGBT Alliance*** to keep it that way, and make it even more-so. One thing she said the Alliance talks about a lot in terms of what can be done to improve local progression is, again, reaching out to LGBTQ+ youth.
“I think it’s more about just reaching out to the youth, and the youth of the community, and especially the trans youth that are in our area, and surrounding area, and just providing, I don’t know whether it be meet-ups and groups and education,” she said. “I think it’s educating the community on what that means, and who we are, and that we’re not any different from anybody else.
“I just think the youth in particular, they’re just very vulnerable, and a lot of times they may not have the stability of a job, or might just be leaving high school, or in high school and their parents, to come out and have your parents disown you can change the course of your life. But if material and direction was given I think we could see big changes. The rate of suicides, the amount of homeless people — kids that are homeless because parents kick them out of their house, addiction, dealing with things because they don’t have anything else to turn to, I think just providing and showing them that there are other options and resources, and finding those resources with the community, and that’s mainly through Pride month.”
When a community embraces and celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride, Windham said it show’s how far we’ve come in society.
“Especially for me in the last 20 years, because growing up ... where I had to be very positive my entire life and pretend, it just really means a lot to me to see it and feel welcome and feel safe in a town that is supporting that, and provides an environment that you can be yourself, and we (Hot Springs) do that every single month and every single day of the year,” she said.
*LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-Spirit, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, + Pansexual, + Agender, + Gender Queer, + Bigender, + Gender Variant and + Pangender.
** The Stonewall Inn in New York City was a well-known gay bar run by the Genovese crime family that was raided by police in 1969. The raid resulted in riots by the LGBTQ+ community, which experienced police harassment and social discrimination regularly. The Stonewall Riots were a leading factor to the fight for queer rights in America.
***The Alliance will hold a Pride Picnic from noon to 6 p.m. June 20 at Arc Isle, 203 Lookout Point. Free to the public, there will be food, entertainment and games. RSVP by June 18 on the Alliance’s Facebook Page, @HotSpringsLGBTAlliance.