As Pride Houston 365 prepares for Houston’s first Pride festival and parade since 2019, security is on the minds of many.
On June 11, 31 members of the white-supremicist Patriot Front were arrested in a small Idaho town while prepping to stage a riot at a local Pride event. They were arrested with riot gear after a tipster reported seeing people loading up into a U-Haul truck like “a little army” at a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Police found riot gear, one smoke grenade, shin guards, and shields inside the U-Haul after pulling it over near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride in the Park event, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said. At least seven of the men were from Texas, including the founder of the group 23-year-old Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, and 22-year-old Robert Whitted of Conroe. All of the men are now out on bail.
“We have always had protesters,” says Pride Houston 365’s co-president Kendra Walker. “Of course there is increased concern now, but we had already planned for more security since this is our first event since COVID. It’s also the largest Pride parade in Texas, and the third-largest overall.”
The organization is expecting 30,000 to 50,000 people to attend the day-long festival, and possibly as many as 800,000 to attend the parade. The last parade, in 2019, had an attendance of 750,000.
“What we’ve done is review our policies,” Walker says. “There will be 12 to 15 agencies that day, both uniformed and undercover police, watch towers, and bomb-sniffing dogs, which we’ve always had. The agencies are doing run-throughs now and making contingency plans, but Houston is one of the safest cities for major events. We’ve had Super Bowls here, and other massive events. And yes, people are concerned after what happened in Idaho, and I can only say to follow the do’s-and-don’ts tips [posted online at] pridehouston365.org.”
There is a small attendance fee for the festival this year—$5 online, or $10 at the gate. And Walker suggests people get tickets early in order to speed the lines. Security will check bags at entrance points, and no oversized bags or weapons are allowed. Drugs and smoking are completely prohibited.
Even though Pride has always had its protestors, this year they have been emboldened by far-right politics and rhetoric.
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD (the world’s largest LGBTQ media-advocacy organization), wrote on Twitter after the Idaho arrests: “Lawmakers and governors like DeSantis and Abbott, along with their co-conspirators at Fox News, better pause today and recognize that their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and the nearly 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year are responsible for this dangerous climate. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media platforms must also take responsibility and urgently stop fueling the hate and misinformation that inspire white-supremacist groups like the Patriot Front. This group was stopped this weekend in Idaho before violence occurred, thanks to the critical work of local authorities, but we might not be so lucky the next time one of the growing number of groups like this plan to swarm a LGBTQ location. Today, as we mark the sixth remembrance of the 49 beautiful and innocent lives lost at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, we have to stop the shameful anti-LGBTQ laws, misinformation, and rhetoric that make America unsafe for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. Corporations, media, and politicians have to act now, not send thoughts and prayers in the future.”
In a recent Texas Tribune article, Mandy Giles, president of the local LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG Houston, voiced her concerns about participating in the local Pride events before ultimately concluding that individual members can decide if they want to attend the Pride events downtown. Giles personally felt that attending was the right thing to do.
For more info, visit pridehouston365.org.