By Tiffany Hopkins, April 2016 Issue.

The Phoenix Pride parade is one of Arizona’s longest-running LGBTQ traditions.

Throughout the years, this procession has served as a melting pot for businesses, organizations, individuals and families to celebrate, demonstrate and gain visibility as a unified community.

The tradition continues April 3 (on Sunday for the second consecutive year) as the 2016 parade – under the theme of #CommunityStrong – hits the streets of central Phoenix.

“I think the greatest part about this parade is the power of its history,” said Justin Owen, Phoenix Pride executive director. “The first-ever Pride parade was an actual march for political activism.”

The nation’s first Pride parade, which took place in New York City in June of 1970, commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots – the nearly week-long uprising between young LGBTQ people and police officers following a raid of Stonewall Inn – and has since been adopted by cities all over the world.

What started solely as a push for political activism, Owen explained, has evolved into a grand celebration for LGBTQ communities everywhere.

“We are showing everyone who we are and doing it proudly,” he said, “It’s a time to celebrate our presence … This event makes it clear to see how far we’ve come.”

According to Dani Logan, Phoenix Pride program manager, the parade is a community collaboration that includes allies, partners and many outstanding volunteers.

“With this event, everything and everyone just comes together,” Logan said. “Bring your kids. Bring your parents. We want everyone to be a part of it.”

The Phoenix Pride Parade will serve as the community's introduction to Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride 2016 Naomi St. James and Geo Johnson. Photo by leakedglass.com.

The parade is more than just balloons and rainbows, Logan said, adding that it is an atmosphere of support and visibility where everyone in attendance is saying, “We support you and the LGBT community.”

In recent years, Owen said the parade has received more support than ever from allies who want to become more involved in LGBTQ community and its progress.

“In the last couple years, the LGBT community has really been attacked,” he said. “Our allies see that and they want to get involved. They want to stand with us, and say, ‘No, this isn’t right.’”

Parade organizers said they expect to draw local politicians (in both attendance and participation), including Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton – who hasn’t missed one parade yet, according to Owen.

Parade entries are judged in four categories, which include: best vehicle, best walking group, best float and best of parade. Winners will be announced at a later date.

“The diversity of all the contingents is great,” Logan said. “I’m so excited to see all the floats – the groups always get really creative.”

GLSEN Phoenix won "Best Walking Group" in the 2015 parade. Photo courtesy of GLSEN Phoenix.

Last year’s winner for “Best Walking Group” was GLSEN Phoenix, as they possessed one of the largest contingent turn-outs within the parade.

GLSEN Phoenix Chair Ricardo Martinez said, “We had such a great turn-out, and most of our group consisted of high school students.”

GLSEN works to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Phoenix Pride Parade has become a platform for organizations and groups like this to actively relay their message to the local community.

“The students were chanting and demanding to be heard,” Martinez said, “It was a group of kids literally demanding safe schools.”

Martinez is glad the parade enabled them to highlight the very efforts they put forth for students.

“There is so much bravery that goes into doing things like this in a state where there is so much opposition,” he said.

Olivia Gardens will serve as the sole grand marshall for 2016. Photo by Scotty Kirby.

This year’s Phoenix Pride parade grand marshal is Empress X of the Imperial Sovereign Court of Arizona Olivia Gardens. As a former Miss Phoenix Gay Pride (2011), Gardens was selected due to the overwhelming amount of community nominations made via Phoenix Pride’s online survey.

“This year’s parade theme is #CommunityStrong and based on the number of nominations for Miss Gardens, there is no individual who exemplifies this theme more,” Logan said.

According to Logan, the consensus from the community is that Gardens is a person who turns their words into actions.

“As the nominations rolled in, it was clear the Phoenix LGBTQ community describes Olivia as authentic, genuine, selfless, hilarious and an advocate for all,” Logan said.

Gardens will lead an estimated 2,000 parade participants – representing 150 contingents– before 15,000 spectators, and you’re invited.

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