The Woodlands held its first-ever Pride Festival last year. The event was a hit, but what many may not know is the story of how it all came about. It's a story of tragedy, self-discovery, self-acceptance, pride, and most importantly - love.
On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The images that unfolded on TV were heartbreaking.
"I saw all these people coming out of the club. They were crying obviously and very distraught, and they were just saying how they wanted a safe space where they could be themselves, and that really struck a chord with me because I wasn't being my genuine self," said Jason Rocha, Woodlands Pride CEO and Founder. "I was living in a relationship that no one knew about yet."
With that, Jason Rocha was inspired to finally live his truth, but Jason's story of coming out takes a much different and bigger turn. While Jason and his partner Matt were out for a walk at Town Green Park inThe Woodlands, Jason thought to himself how great it would be to have a pride festival in their community. A small idea that really took off.
"So I reached out to a bunch of different groups that were already there, and I just took them with me. I reached out to a few people that I knew in the community, and we had a board within two weeks of that," Rocha said.
Soon after that, they were a registered non-profit. They took their inspiration for their festival from neighboring communities and cities.
"Pride Houston has been amazing through the whole process, really helping and guiding us. We went to Galveston Pride, Austin pride - not really to re-invent any wheel - but to give the suburban life a choice," Rocha said. "Inner-city prides are so effective for what they do, but sometimes people in the suburbs can either be left out or just have a different kind of mentality on what the culture looks like, and so we wanted to create something that was more suitable for families."
Their creation was fruitful.
"To my surprise and amazement, it was very positive," Rocha said. "We were only expecting 2,000 people, and as the day went on, I still can't believe the amount of people that showed up, over 5,000 people for an inaugural festival."
The event was filled with vendor booths, a kid zone, drag shows and much more. But most importantly, they had love.
"Really it was just a day to have fun and be free to hold hands with whoever you want to hold hands with, and kiss whoever you want to kiss," Rocha said. "It was just about loving one another and really celebrating that freedom."
They've already started their work to make this year's festival even better.
"We are just excited to have our second festival and show off who we have as sponsors and vendors, and really show that the community as a whole can be a diverse and inclusive place, but sometimes you just have to fight for that."
This year's festival will be on September 28, 2019 at Town Green Park from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Go to their website for more information.