Northwest Arkansas on Saturday hosted two very different displays of pride in identity and in community.
The bigger and flashier of the two, as you might’ve guessed, was the annual pride parade in Fayetteville, a rowdy celebration of the diversity of human sexuality and gender identity. You can always count on this march to be overloaded with cheers and hugs, and this year seemed particularly extravagant.
My favorite part of the occasion was probably when the column of participants and onlookers marched to the Fayetteville square at the end and flooded the simultaneous farmers market, taking some couples dancing to live music by surprise.
Another party was getting started around the same time on the other end of northwest Arkansas. Sulphur Springs, a town of a few hundred people just south of the Missouri border, celebrated Independence Day a week and a half early.
I wrote about Sulphur Springs back in April and how it has shrunk while the rest of the region explodes. The locals blame small-town politics and drug problems in recent years and an unlucky location for the loss, but they’re also trying to breathe new life into the place, and recent Census numbers show it might be working. This weekend was the fourth annual Sulphur Day, an all-day festival that brings in several hundred people for a parade and fireworks in the park that dominates the town’s center. I’d been looking forward to going since I first heard about it.
Now, Pride and Sulphur Days clearly have a lot of space between them in more ways than one. The crowds at each probably didn’t overlap much. When I told one Sulphur Springs resident about Fayetteville’s parade, she said simply, “Well, it is what it is.” The distance shows some of itself in, among other things, a presidential administration that’s taken a very different approach gay and transgender issues than the last one.
The distance is complicated and serious, more so than I can adequately address here. But I hope it isn’t for nothing that the two cities are in the same metro in the same state in the same country, and they both found some reasons to be proud of it. I’m more of a city guy myself, but it was a lovely evening in Sulphur Springs with some nice people, alligator tacos and thousands of lightning bugs.
Thanks for looking,