Yuma’s “True Colors”: LGBTQ Pride in Rural Arizona

Jun 1, 2018

Yuma recently celebrated its first-ever LGBTQ Pride event.  And, as KAWC’s Maya Springhawk Robnett reports, the event had a surprisingly large turnout.  Around 900 people came by the event throughout the day…

Riley McMaster in Goth Drag (Left) and Sergio Manriquez (Right)
Credit Maya Springhawk Robnett / KAWC Colorado River Public Media

It’s late afternoon on 2nd Avenue outside the Littlewood Fine Art & Community CoOp, an art community center.  The CoOp is usually colorful, with paintings hung on every wall of the building and murals on the outside.  But today, the colors spill out into the street.  A crowd of more than a hundred shouts and dances, wearing rainbow flags as capes.  People sit on their significant others’ shoulders, decked out with vibrant hair, makeup, jewelry, and personalities.

23-year-old Riley McMaster is dressed in drag—a wig, fishnet tights, and dark, dramatic makeup. 

“Okay,” he says, “I was listening to the Cure.  And I was going for like a Goth-themed drag.  So I went with like a short black bob, straight-across bangs, like Russian spy feel.”

"My mother's actually here, too, and she recently started dating a woman like a year ago, out of the blue. We wanted to go to our first Pride together, especially in our hometown." -Riley McMaster

McMaster says having his first Pride in Yuma was important to him.

“I came because it’s Yuma’s first-ever Pride, obviously, and I feel like I have to support that, being gay myself,” McMaster says.  But there’s more to it. “My mother’s actually here, too, and she recently started dating a woman like a year ago, out of the blue, after being married to my dad for a while, too, so, that’s cool.  We wanted to experience it together.  We wanted to go to our first Pride together, actually, and especially in our hometown.”

Yuma natives and folks from all around the state came here for Yuma’s celebration of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer community.  The event includes drag shows, costume contests, local bands, and started with a brief parade. 

Pride-goers wore rainbow everything, including makeup
Credit Maya Springhawk Robnett / KAWC Colorado River Public Media

The event is historic—at least one person uses the word “legendary.”  It’s Yuma’s first Pride event ever.

Deedra Abboud, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, came dressed in a blue headscarf and a shirt declaring “Support Equality.”  She says she doesn’t know why Yuma hasn’t had a Pride before, but she says it’s about time…

“It’s 2018,” Abboud says. “It should be a normal event by now.  But, I guess people traditionally have thought of it more of the big cities and they go to the big cities to enjoy it, but now the towns and the rural areas are saying, ‘You know? Me too!’”

"And you want to know why I think a lot of those folks out there are afraid of us? Because when they look at us, you know what they see? They see love." -Kelly Fryer

Democratic State Representative Charlene Fernandez, Democratic State Senator Lisa Otondo, and Yuma City Councilman Michael Shelton also attended—as well as Kelly Fryer, a Democratic candidate for Arizona Governor.  She stands atop a wooden crate to give a speech to the crowd and calls over her wife, Tanna, to stand by her side.

"And you wanna know why I think a lot of those folks out there are afraid of us?” she asks the crowd. “Because when they look at us, you know what they see? They see love…and that means they see power.”

"Eight years ago, I would've never seen this many gay people or lesbians in one spot without them having to look over their shoulder in fear." -Robert Schultz, "Sister Bare Ly Covered"

There was some concern on the part of the organizers that there could be trouble.  Yuma Pride was put together by AllYuma—an organization seeking legal non-profit status in hopes of starting a community center to support LGBTQ youth.  AllYuma brought local security on board to hold off any violence or picketing, but to their surprise, protestors never came.

“Sister Bare Ly Covered”, or Robert Schultz, a so-called “21st Century Nun”, visited from Miami Globe, Arizona to “bless” the event with glitter.  Wearing a beaded blue modified nun’s habit, he says he of all people knows how much Yuma has changed; he lived here until 2010.

“When I moved to Miami Globe, it was not okay to be gay Yuma,” Schultz remembers. “Eight years ago, I would’ve never seen this many gay people or lesbians in one spot without them having to look over their shoulder in fear.”

21-year-old Sergio Manriquez says he was just as shocked to see Yuma’s acceptance, but it was a pleasant surprise.

“The people here are very loving, and I didn’t see that until this happened,” Manriquez admits. “I can finally see the true colors of my city.”

"I can finally see the true colors of my city." -Sergio Manriquez