ROANOKE, Va. – Colorful flags proudly waved at the return of the Roanoke Pride Festival to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community Sunday.
The festival carried more meaning this year after a coronavirus pandemic hiatus.
Hundreds of people walked Salem Avenue with pride as furry friends also showed support.
Quinn Caldwell, 15, carried a flag representing his recent announcement as a transgender male who likes men.
Caldwell said it’s a relief to meet people at his first pride event who uplift his journey of identity rather than pass judgment.
“It’s awesome to see how many people are actually here,” he said. “Because it’s pride, I’m supposed to do that. I can’t really do it in school. So I got to do it here.”
It’s a full-circle moment for Garland Gravely, a volunteer of the Roanoke Diversity Center, who self-disclosed his identity at Caldwell’s age in the 1980s.
“It’s very hard,” Gravely said. “I mean, I come from a generation back in the 80s. It was very, very hard. Things have gotten better in 2022, but we still have a long way to go.”
As political challenges still make headlines in other states, the Roanoke Diversity Center President Peter Volosin said this event shows how far Virginia has come.
“Virginia’s a great place and we are able to make these advances with the Virginia Values Act,” Volosin said. “I think we saw a lot more LGBT folks being more open because of that. We are seeing things like in Texas and Florida that are putting people back in the closet and we don’t want to see that happening here.”
The Roanoke Diversity Center dedicates its space on Campbell Avenue as a place for those who want to express their most authentic selves.
“When people are coming out or are unsure of their sexuality, it’s hard for them,” Volosin said. “That’s why it’s great to have a community center where people can be themselves and learn about themselves. That allows them to be open and honest with who they are. Both with the families and out in the public.
As drag show entertainers garnered rounds of applause, the sound was a symbol of Roanoke creating a safe space.