One of the coolest things I attended as a spectator this summer was Panhandle Pride. Each year, for the past five years, friends, family, and strangers gather to celebrate old and new friendships and support the LGBTQ+ community.

While many organizations in town support the community, this is a free, fun way for everyone to show their continued support for people who have traditionally been marginalized by society. Each year I attend reminds me there are people of western Nebraska who are welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Five years ago, Panhandle Pride began in Gardner Park in Gering. About 130 people showed up for that fun and hopeful inaugural event. Since then, the event has moved to Frank Park and continues to grow. With each passing year, I have watched a more and diverse crowd, from young to old, attend the event.

Panhandle Pride is the only LGBTQ+ Pride event in western Nebraska. The fun-filled event attracts a diverse audience and showcases a talent show, drag performances, choir performances and family-friendly activities.

Regardless of whether you identify as lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer or are an ally, family, friend or neighbor, everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend the festivities. Panhandle Pride is an opportunity to educate the western Nebraska community about LGBTQ issues provides a fun way for everyone to come together in a safe environment and enjoy an afternoon together.

This year’s event kicked off with the Theater West Show Choir. While chatting with a friend, I was continually enthralled by the fantastic voices from the members of the choir.

I did not count the vendor booths, but it seemed like there were even more than last year. I am continually amazed at the local organizations who continue to support Panhandle Pride. There were about 400 people in attendance this year, the event’s biggest crowd to date. The Post Pride Drag Show drew just shy of 100 people.

Highlights this year included a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the planting of a Canadian Red tree in Frank Park to remember those who have fought and continue to fight for an end to discrimination against and full equality for LGBTQ+ individuals.

LGBTQ Pride Month and pride celebrations across the country and around the world were born out of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 in New York City. The following year, in 1970, pride events began springing up across the country to protest discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community.

One of the most entertaining parts of the event is the talent show. Individuals show off what they have in their efforts to wow the crowds.

Debby Wagner sings to Ryan Griffin during the 2019 Panhandle Pride.

Another interesting and heartwarming thing I have noticed over the past five years is the increase in the number of youth who attend the event.

It’s encouraging to see youth having fun and being themselves. Everyone is there to support each other, regardless of who they are. The day is all about just being you, whoever you are. I look forward to a day when that can happen every day. Until then, I’ll keep attending Panhandle Pride and supporting the work they do.

If you missed the opportunity to speak with Panhandle Equality board members, they will be hanging out at the Scotts Bluff County Fair this week from 4-10 p.m.

The event helps raise money so Panhandle Equality can continue their outreach efforts in the Panhandle. Between Panhandle Pride and the Post Pride Drag Show, organizers raised $1,400.

If you couldn’t make it to the event, but would still like to support a great organization, you can make a donation by visiting their website and keeping your calendar open next summer in order to attend Panhandle Pride and join in on the fun.