Standing on a corner in downtown Opelika is not the typical place where people expect Queer history to be made. It’s one of those Alabama late afternoons where everything says rain, and the air is so humid you might as well be underwater. For blocks all around this quiet little downtown area, people are waving rainbow flags and sitting in anticipation of the very first Pride parade to march down these streets. Pride on the Plains has spent the last year getting ready for this moment and while the goals may be modest, what this planning committee delivers is nothing short of wonderful. This march feels like how LGBTQ prides must have felt in the 70s. People on the edge of their seats waiting to be a part of something historic and empowering. As the first of the parade comes around the corner I feel myself getting more and more excited about being here with these people who are both strangers and family all at once. As the parade makes it way to the park in the center of town people pour off the sidewalks and being to march themselves, both out of an impulse to be a part of something but also because you can’t help but feel that this is your moment. The speakers invoke Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, Harvey Milk, and Marsha P Johnson. The connect our movement to Queer and Trans people of color, they call out the specter of white supremacy, they demand to know why Bi, ACE, and Pan people are invisible, and they call us to arms to be better for each other. Here in this small Alabama town I witness what happens when people understand who they are as a part of history, when people know they have a responsibility to create joy as well as anger, and when an unlikely place becomes one of the best examples of a grassroots movement that I have ever seen. the Invisible Histories Project did our best to capture this moment as both witness and participant. We recorded the moments, got the signatures, and will do our best to do justice to the people who made this possible. Congratulations to everyone in the Auburn/Opelika area and to the board of Pride on the Plains, you truly set a bar for how community can get it right.
Josh Burford is an archivist, an activist, a Queer historian, and a radical educator with over 17 years’ experience working with LGBTQ communities and diversity education.