'A different light': Latino Pride Festival draws Phoenix crowd celebrating queerness

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Downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square on Saturday drew hundreds seeking a community and belonging during the third Latino Pride Festival.

Luz Urrutia, 30, of Phoenix, and Sherry Sarabia, 26, of Tolleson, were at the celebrations honoring el diez y seis de septiembre — Mexico’s Independence Day — and queer pride.

As Latinos, “we’re not always celebrated for our sexual orientation … especially with our families,” Urrutia said from under her fatigue green Arizona Diamondbacks cap as music blared from the background. “It’s a perfect outlet.”

A returning patron to the festival, 34-year-old Phoenix-area resident Johnny Sanchez, seconded Urrutia’s thoughts. Garbed in a frilly black skirt, Sanchez said, “It’s a great opportunity for our community to be showcased in a different light.”

In addition to human warmth, attendees were met with temperatures hovering above 90 degrees even after the sun had set.

“Despite the heat, it’s a lot of fun,” said Valley resident Griffin McDowell, 36.

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Offering assistance

Along with a few beverage and food vendors, the festival also had nonprofit organizations highlighting the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

Turning the Tide, part of the Arizona-based Terros Health, was among the booths that lined the park’s lawn. The program offers free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, help with mental health and support for transgender individuals and people identifying as nonbinary.

“We kind of work with everybody,” Oliver DeRonde said.

Another organization with a booth was Chicanos Por La Causa De Colores, which offers services to domestic violence victims.

Ernie Razo, left, attends the Latino Pride Festival in Phoenix on September 16, 2023.
Ernie Razo, left, attends the Latino Pride Festival in Phoenix on September 16, 2023.

'This community embraced me': Attendees take in musical performances

Bodies stood or swayed to the sounds emanating from the festival’s performance stage from which a prism of colors flashed through laser lights. One young man’s shoulders and back were draped by a Mexican flag with the Pride colors replacing its green and red vertical stripes. Another man waved about the Puerto Rican flag.

Sporting a white cowboy hat over a long, blond wig while decked out in a sequined hot pink top with matching shorts and boots, Mexican drag performer Lolita Banana lip-synced to Selena’s “Como La Flor” as the audience sang along. Lolita would change into a spangled leotard and knee-high yellow boots as she was carried off the stage onto the crowd during a lip sync performance to “Break Free” by Ariana Grande.

The “Drag Race México” cohost thanked “Fénix” as she bowed out.

Former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant Adore Delano, a transgender performer who competed as Daniel Anthony Noriega on “American Idol,” slinked across the stage in a black catsuit with a cascading raven wig during her musical set.

In between Lolita Banana and Delano was singer Robin S. who sang her 1993 music hit “Show Me Love,” and finished by telling her cheering audience, “When I started, the record labels didn’t know where to place me, but this community embraced me.”

'Create your own platform': Event returns after hardships posed by COVID, community backlash

Organized by the Latino Pride Alliance, this is the first Latino Pride Festival in four years.

Maricopa County District 5 Supervisor Steve Gallardo started the volunteer-based organization after members of the Trans Queer Pueblo group blocked the Phoenix Pride Parade in 2017, protesting what they argued were harmful practices against LGBTQ immigrants at the event.

“My suggestion is don’t fight. Build your own. Create your own platform,” Gallardo said.

Coming out as gay in 2014 in his 40s while in the state senate, Gallardo, 54, said he empathizes with others growing up Latino and LGBTQ+.

“To every young Latino or adult that is struggling with who they are... our message is, ‘You’re not alone. We’re here,’” he said.

Gallardo remembers the festival debuting in 2018 at Corona Ranch in south Phoenix and how it drew a 14-year-old boy and his grandmother at their first Pride event.

The following year, the festival was held in the same venue, but COVID paused planning for the event in 2020 and 2021.

Gallardo said he envisioned 2022’s festival taking shape on the historic Grand Avenue, but he was met with fierce opposition from some business owners. This, he said, led to the event’s third consecutive postponement.

He expressed satisfaction with the festival’s newly centralized setting and said 2024 would see a two-day return to the park. He added he would like to eventually extend festivities to the Tucson area.

“We should be growing. We should be inviting other people,” Gallardo said.

Reach breaking news reporter Jose R. Gonzalez at jose.gonzalez@gannett.com or on X, formerly Twitter @jrgzztx.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Latino Pride Festival salutes queerness, heritage in downtown Phoenix