My spouse Shronn and I have been married for 14 years. Each year we drive an hour away to Tulsa for the pride parade, but this year we had plans to be out of town so I wanted to do something earlier in the month to celebrate with some friends. I thought we could bring out a rainbow flag and have a picnic in our backyard. I created an open Facebook event so friends could invite friends, but I only expected about 15 people tops.
I had no idea I was about to create the first gay pride event in my hometown of Tahlequah, Okla.
Within a week, 50 people had joined the Facebook event. Then it was 100. I realized this would spill out of my yard and into the park by my house. I had to get a permit from the city so we could do the picnic there instead. And the event was still growing. People I had never met were RSVPing and inviting their friends.
My wife and I, along with a few friends, worked together to organize everything. Shronn got a flash mob together to dance. Drag queens from Tulsa volunteered to perform. A DJ offered his services. Local vendors wanted to set up booths.
This was such a different experience than a decade ago when I was president of the Young Allied Gays group in college and we couldn't get support from any businesses or organizations. We'd get something like cups from a local business and they'd want to make sure we didn't name them as a supporter. Now, every vendor in town wanted to help.
The RSVPs continued to pour in.
It wasn't just people from the LGBTQ2 -- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Two-Spirited -- community. It was straight allies and heterosexual families, too.
The event had taken on a life of its own. It really showed the need and desire for something like this in our town. I had an elderly couple tell me that they never thought they'd see the day when this could happen here.
Of course, all of this wasn't without some controversy. We heard that some people had called the city to complain about our upcoming event, but the city stood by us and let us use the park as planned.
On the day of the picnic, we were excited but braced for protestors and drama. Thankfully, that's not what we found. The whole day was so positive from start to finish. About 600 people showed up, which was huge for our town of around 16,000. My favorite part was how many people brought their kids. There were probably 100 kids running around with flags, face paint and balloons. I had people tell me that they were so happy to be able to take their family to something like this.
Another special moment was talking to a teenager I recognized from seeing around town over the past few years. Every time I used to see him, I felt this need to give him a smile or an affirming nod because I could tell he was gay and I wanted to let him know he wasn't alone. At the picnic we were able to finally meet and talk, and I told him I had been trying to look out for him. He told me his mother was "coming around" to the reality that he was gay. The picnic was his first pride event and the first time he'd seen drag queens. It made my day to see him there having such a good time.
The group of us who had organized the event had such a passion for what we were doing, we knew we wanted to keep things going after the picnic. We filed paperwork to become a non-profit organization called TahlEquality. We'll be raising money and developing community outreach programs for young people who identify as LGBTQ2 or who are struggling with their sexuality.
The picnic will go on, too. We've decided we want this to be an annual event in Pride Month, and we've already reserved the park for next year and have a list of about 100 vendors who are interested in participating. We're excited to see it get bigger and better every year.
I might not have set out to do this originally, but I'm proud we could show our neighbors that we are not just a few "others" down the street. We're a whole community who are raising children, paying taxes, living, dreaming and loving in every corner of our town.
Carden Crow is a journalist in Tahlequah, Okla. Donate to TahlEquality here.