We attended the annual Tempe Town Lake 4th of July Festival, where thousands of people came to celebrate American pride. In light of the recent Orlando shootings, we thought this would be a great opportunity to celebrate LGBTQ+ pride as well. Desert Canvas supports and advocates for the queer community, and in light of the recent hate crimes, it’s now more important than ever to make our support known.
The first person to share their story with us was a Persian girl whose parents were raised in Iran. She expressed her gratitude for the freedom and acceptance we have in America—acceptance of people with different gender identities, sexual orientations, mental health issues and other things that are taboo in her native country. She also loves yoga and we can’t wait to see her at the kickoff of Desert Canvas All One Fest!
A couple of our favorite interviewees were Stan and Peter, two men from Belgium who were visiting America for the first time. According to them, Belgium (along with many of its neighboring European countries) is incredibly open to the queer* community. In Belgium, they told us, the atmosphere is overwhelmingly more inclusive than it is in America. They explained that “it’s completely normal in Belgium for a straight guy to have lots of gay friends. It’s not weird.”
When asked what message they would send to Americans who are against the LGBTQ+ community, Stan and Peter exclaimed,
“CHILL OUT! America needs to stop making a big deal about gay people and start focusing on important issues.”
One festival attendee told us the tragic story of her gay best friend who committed suicide with a drug overdose at the young age of 15. The suicide, she explained, was a direct result of the lack of acceptance by family and friends of the young man’s homosexuality. She teared up as she told us this heart-breaking story. To this day she wholeheartedly supports the queer community and hopes Americans will open their hearts to LGBTQ+ individuals, who are every bit as worthy of love and acceptance as anyone else.
We spoke to a woman named Sadie, whose brother recently got married to his long-time male partner in Kansas. The couple recently adopted four foster kids, two of whom are LGBTQ-identified. One of these children had been bullied and beaten in his foster home for identifying as an LGBTQ person. Thanks to this gay couple’s compassion, the formerly mistreated children now have a loving home.
We talked to Sarah, a self-identified feminine lesbian who has had mostly positive responses to coming out, particularly in the workplace. She feels as though she’s had a much easier time coming out than more visibly queer individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Sarah’s friend Sara/Caden, who identifies as transgender, recently moved to Tempe and is searching for supportive communities. We told them that Desert Canvas is one of many places where they can find that support!
Samantha and Madi, best friends who identify as gay and pansexual, respectively, have had mostly positive responses to coming out. Madi works at Chipotle and she has found it to be a very supportive workplace for LGBTQ individuals!
Next we encountered Paul, who was raised around gay people from a young age, so homosexuality never seemed strange or wrong to him. Somewhere along the line, his school teacher introduced him to a church that was adamantly opposed to homosexuality. This experience turned Paul against the church and he became an Atheist. Later in life, Paul found a Methodist church that was overwhelmingly open to the LGBTQ community; in fact, the church has a gay pastor! Paul’s experiences in this pro-LGBTQ church ultimately restored his faith. He now considers himself very religious and is happy to belong to such a welcoming, inclusive group of believers.
Around 9:00 PM, we paused in observance of the spectacular fireworks display over the Mill Avenue Bridge. It was a beautiful sight to behold as thousands of attendees stopped what they were doing to watch this symbolic tribute to American freedom.
Throughout the festival, the air was filled with fantastic music from talented cover bands. The crowd danced the night away to cover songs like “Exes and Ohs” by Elle King, “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber, “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, and many more. We also heard some original songs from a local family band. It was their first time performing in front of a crowd and they were amazing!
The response we received from the crowd was overwhelmingly positive. We actually didn’t encounter a single person who was anti-LGBTQ. Having seen our fair share of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in our time, it was pleasantly refreshing to be surrounded by so many queer-friendly Americans. People may have been in attendance to celebrate American pride, but one thing was clear–many of these people were proud to be, know, or love an LGBTQ-identified individual.
A huge thank you to everyone who shared their stories about their LGBTQ+ and American pride. Thank you to the City of Tempe for putting together such a beautiful celebration of American freedom.
If you spot the Desert Canvas totem at a future event, don’t be shy! Come tell us your story!
Want to share a story of your own about your experience(s) in the LGBTQ community? Comment below to tell us more!
*Please note that in the present day, the word “queer” no longer holds the negative connotation it held in the past. Today, “queer” is used as an empowering descriptive term in the LGBTQ community.