PFLAG to host Pride at the Park

When Karla Valencia moved back to Green River, she noticed something missing. Valencia lived in Green River for 27 years before moving to Casper. While living there, she became part of the local PFLAG chapter — an organization designed to support LGBTQ+ individuals and their family and friends.

When she returned to Green River three years ago, Valencia felt the organization’s absence. So she decided to start one here. 

The group’s first official event will be “Pride at the Park,” taking place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 18 at Evers Park. The event is designed to be an opportunity for “meeting people where they are and providing a welcoming and safe space,” according to flyers.

Wanting to meet people is one of the key factors that motivated Valencia to start a local PFLAG chapter in the first place.

“I had not been able to find any LGBTQ people,” Valencia said, thinking about when she moved back to the area.

However, in the past few months Valencia has found several like-minded people who are excited to help get a PFLAG chapter going. 

One of the first people Valencia found was Amber Marie Hunt. The two met when they were both taking part in the Spirit of Wyoming expo in April, and before long they were ready to make Valencia’s dreams of a local PFLAG chapter a reality. Valencia stepped in as president with Hunt as secretary. Over the past month, several other people have joined to fill other needed roles.

“We came together and it’s an awesome group,” Valencia said. “They’re all very open hearted, loving and very supportive.”

The group had its first official meeting just a few weeks ago, and everything fell together, according to Valencia — including plans for the first local pride event, “Pride at the Park,” which she said the group had planned within one hour.

The event will mostly be a chance for people to meet, talk and get information, but will also include face painting by Hunt, music, and free goodies like flags, stickers and bracelets.

“We wanted to make a very welcoming event,” Hunt said. She explained some Pride events are focused on adults, but they wanted this event to be open to everyone and family-friendly, which is why they included activities like face painting.

“It won’t be gigantic this year, but it'll grow and grow and grow,” Valencia said, explaining she watched Casper’s Pride event grow from 30 people in a park when it started to four days’ worth of activities now, and much of that growth was helped by PFLAG.

Hunt said she hopes the group will be able to work with other organizations in the community, such as Drag for a Cause, to continue expanding and offering more opportunities in the future.

While they will work with various groups, Valencia specified PFLAG is a non-denominational, non-political, non-profit group, and they want anyone to feel welcome.

PFLAG is a national organization originally named “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.” Over the years, PFLAG shortened its name to just its acronym and expanded its mission to include other groups including bisexual and transgender individuals. 

“[PFLAG] now covers the whole gamut,” Valencia explained. 

The national organization has been going for almost 40 years and has over 400 chapters across the country, and several in Wyoming, including in Casper, Laramie, Gillette and Cody.

“It’s growing and we have a lot of backing all over this state,” Valencia said.

The group focuses on education and advocacy, providing resources for family and friends of LGBTQ+ people and promoting activities to fight for equal rights. It also provides a place for support, according to Valencia, “so that people have a place to meet where there’s other like minded people and allies and the family.” She explained she likes to refer to the LGBTQ+ community as “the family.”

Once the PFLAG chapter becomes more established, they plan to have meetings once a month in both Green River and Rock Springs. The meetings will focus on education and offering resources, will include things like workshops and special speakers, and will be a chance for people to give input on what topics they want to learn about as well as giving opportunities to have fun and get to know people. The group also plans to alternate between Green River and Rock Springs each year when hosting a Pride event in June.

Valencia believes the time and place are right for Sweetwater to have an organization like PFLAG.

“It’s really needed in this area,” she said.

Valencia and Hunt both expressed their concerns over how people having to hide who they are contributes to suicide rates. They’re ready for things to change, and said one of the best ways to change things is for people to be visible, to support each other, and to educate others, which they hope PFLAG will help accomplish.

“I feel like there’s a lot of work to do for people to understand,” Hunt said. “I'll do that work, because it's hard on a community to have to bear that burden of always being like ‘let me educate you about me just trying to be a human’ when all they are is a member of your own community.”

“People are afraid to come out and be who they are, and it's really hard to live that kind of life, to hide forever and not just be able to be who you are,” Valencia explained. “And at my age, I'm tired of hiding, so I’m going to drag everybody out with me,” she joked with a laugh, adding: “I want it to be a safe place. If they want to come out, fine. If they don't, that's fine, too. But I want them to know that we're here and support them.”


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