Taos has long been a magnet for freedom-loving people from everywhere. Being different is worn as a badge of creative honor. You may ask why does a liberal, Northern New Mexico town …
Taos has long been a magnet for freedom-loving people from everywhere. Being different is worn as a badge of creative honor. You may ask why does a liberal, Northern New Mexico town need an event like Taos Pride - a summer celebration of all things LGBTQ+ planned today through Saturday (Aug. 1-3)?
Isn't every day in Taos an opportunity to express and find acceptance of who you are, regardless of how you identify? Or is it?
Tempo asked these four members of the Taos LGBTQ+ community to weigh in on these questions. Katy Ballard is the president of Taos Pride, Cody Hooks (former Taos News assistant editor) is the secretary, entertainment coordinator and volunteer outreach. Victor Alfredo Medrano, also known as Anastasia Versace, is part of the Pride celebration entertainment and Zia Willowflower, also a performer at Pride, is known in the community as Jo Jo Ortiz.
What does Pride mean to you, and do you think we will always need it?
Katy Ballard: Pride is at its core activist work. When we come together to celebrate our LGBTQ+ lives and voices we create strength. It allows those who feel like outsiders or are rejected by their families to realize they are not alone. It is emotionally, socially and politically important to host Pride events and to celebrate the history of Stonewall (the Greenwich Village, New York City, gay bar where a series of riots broke out after a police raid in 1969, thereby initiating the gay rights movement). It is a way to create solidarity in the LGBTQ+ communities. We need to remember the work of our queer ancestors like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson, and many others who stood up to brutality in 1969 at Stonewall. We need to remember those in Taos who worked to make a difference here. Robert Quintana began Pride as we know it now. Keeping the movement going honors him. We must continue to be vigilant and fight for the rights we have gained and are still fighting for because they can be taken away.
Victor Alfredo Medrano: Pride is important for us to celebrate our diversity, the battles we have faced and what we have accomplished. Pride is important to me because it's the only time Anastasia Versace gets to show what she's got and it's the one time I get to be with my community.
Jo Jo Ortiz: My first Taos Pride memory is of my grandmother Heather Anderson taking me. I was 8 or 9 and wearing a dress. There, I met Miss Albuquerque and Miss Santa Fe. After a few years I went on my own. Six years ago I started performing - it makes me happy, I enjoy entertaining people. Pride is a place where I get to pull out all the stops and be exactly who I am and show the world who that is. It is important to continue to have a safe place to celebrate and acknowledge each other.
Cody Hooks: At heart, Pride is one of the rituals of our community; it's how we gather and feel strong as a community. That's valuable in a rural place like Taos County, where though there are many people in our community, we are so spread out it's hard to get together. Pride, at its best, reminds queer folks of our history, gives us a place to just be ourselves in the present and offers a path into the future we want to build. I think to some extent, we will always need a form of Pride, some way to be with each other in celebration and safety as a community. This makes Pride so special to me.
What are some challenges the community faces and how can Taos support the LGBTQ+ community?
Ballard: My personal experience has been very positive but I know that is not the case for all queer people in Taos. Their stories need to be heard. I think the community overall supports LGBTQ+ lives, but there are few resources and safe spaces that cater to the LGBTQ+ community and to LGBTQ+ teens and children. We can always use more support. Sponsorships of events and donations help so much. We are a small group that comes together to make this event happen and [we welcome] having more people join us to volunteer their time and energy.
Medrano: Taos Pride has given me so many opportunities to inspire others and get to show my art and I'm thankful to Taos Pride and all they have done for me. I would like to see Taos take more Pride and expand, for example close the road for the parade so we can make it bigger.
Ortiz: Certain days it's harder to deal with people - at work we get people who misgender with me and my co-workers. They call me "sir" on purpose. … We don't get mad, we know who they are. I would like to see more all-ages drag shows to further our scene here in Taos. I'd also like to see all-around queer representation for our community, not just during summer Pride.
Hooks: Rural queers face a lot of the same challenges as everyone who lives outside of a city, like access to consistent, relevant, affordable health care or decent paying jobs. Rural queer folks have an added layer of having a hard time gathering as a community. Shame, discrimination, homophobia, aggression and violence are problems, and I think it's hushed/underreported in this small town.
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Ballard said she hopes to see the event "continue to be inclusive of different ages and queer voices. Yes, Pride is a party and a chance to celebrate but it is also a political and activist movement. Education, support and leadership are all aspects of this event."
She continued, "Our LGBTQ+ film festival brings different queer voices to our audiences. We host Gutters & Glam, which is a teen performance night. It would be great if there were events for people of the LGBTQ+ communities all year-round as diverse as the lives of queer communities in Taos. The Pride in the Park event and our parade harken back to Stonewall and this tradition must continue to connect us to our roots."
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