By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Before what many believe was the first-ever pride march in Big Sky, Ray Black megaphoned his gratitude.
“You are all making history,” he said.
He added, “This is not a protest. This is not a riot. If we are shown hate, we will show love back.”
The crowd gathered under the pavilion at Big Sky Community Park—space donated by BSCO, Black noted—was larger than expected, as many participants commented.
Bozeman residents Leslie Peterson, Paula Power and Susan Maccall traveled up Gallatin Canyon for the march. The city held events during Pride Week at the end of May, but not one like this, they agreed. Maccall said Big Sky turned out a bigger group than she expected.
“I had no idea how many people to expect. But this is an awesome turnout, I think, for the first time,” Maccall said.
Peterson added that she was grateful for everyone sharing their decorations and materials before the march—the community shared balloons, glitter, paint, pride flags and signs.
The march began shortly after 4 p.m., and Black got the crowd going with some basic chants.
Phillip Guardiola, Ernesto Valdez and Katie Robertson all moved to Big Sky in the last year or two.
“As a straight woman, I just like the fact that I see so much of the community coming together and supporting the people that we love,” Robertson said.
“This is amazing that the community is so big. And so many people turned out—even the kids. Where I’m from, it’s a ‘no,’” she added.
“It’s nice to see Big Sky having its first pride march,” Guardiola said. “It’s good to see that the community is accepting and that we are here, and that we are being seen.”
Valdez, who just moved from Texas, added, “This is one of the first events that I’ve gone to, and I like seeing the community together. It’s very friendly, very open…Just so much love around here… It’s very comforting, I’ve never had that in my life. It’s peaceful.”
Many marchers carried signs. Some read: “It’s not political. IT’S POSITIVE,” and “Love is love… Proud mom ally.”
One sign eventually sparked a chant:
“If god hates gays, why are we so cute.”
Other chants included, “Trans rights are human rights,” “can’t hide my pride,” and “Big Sky… big pride.”
When the crowd of roughly 100 approached the junction of Little Coyote and Montana Highway 64, two sheriff’s deputies parked on either side of the crosswalk. The colorful crowd added two minutes to rush hour traffic.
Joel Barton, an ally who said he doesn’t identify as LGBTQ+, spoke with EBS. He recently moved from Seattle, a much more progressive place, he said. He was a little concerned about moving back to Montana, where his family has been for decades.
“I’m kind of blown away by the level of support,” Barton said. “I’m not blown away by the level of contempt, but I think both of them are indicative of what this place is like. It’s changing, and I think it’s changing in the right direction.”
Barton read more than 100 comments on the recent Instagram post by EBS which previewed the march.
“Early, it was very very negative,” Barton recalled. “I wasn’t surprised, but it was discouraging… I looked at the post later, and there was an outpouring of support.”
As an activist, he said he’s “not really a marcher,” more of an ally.
“I think sometimes you gotta pick your battles,” he said. Evidently this was a battle worth fighting.
As the crowd marched upstream beside highway traffic, many drivers cheered, waved and honked their horns with gusto. The support often seemed contagious, like a chain reaction of expression enabled by other drivers.
After the march, event organizer Brit Diersch spoke with EBS.
“I don’t know what expectations I had, but they definitely were surpassed,” she said. “Way more people turned out than I thought were going to. I was expecting to get more bad reactions from people driving by. But everyone was stopping to cheer and say hi, cheer along and honk. There was only a handful of negative responses—it was really refreshing to see that.”
She said this event is going to make Big Sky’s LGBTQ+ community bigger.
“People are going to feel safer to be themselves,” she said.” People are going to feel like there is a space for them. Hopefully this means there are more community queer events moving forward.”
The march continued to Town Center, through Len Hill Park to the basketball court outside BASE.
There, Black took the megaphone.
“THAT WAS CRAZY,” he shouted, before introducing Michael Hensley for a short speech. Hensley made note of the overwhelming number of people who chose to join the march.
“It almost makes me want to cry, but I’m too happy to cry right now,” Hensley said.
He emphasized every person at the event is important.
“Transgender people deserve better, and the whole country needs to know that their hate and bigotry will never win,” Hensley told the crowd. “The love and continuous effort of all of us voting, speaking up for friends, family and politicians will shine the light and show us the way of not accepting defeat.”
Hensley passed the megaphone to Diersch.
“I wanted to remind everyone too: what we’re asking for is love and acceptance,” she said. “A good reminder is to give that, on our end, too. To the people who don’t agree with us… We also want to love and accept them as well. Because we can’t ask for something that we can’t give back.”