Much has changed in the 10 years since John Schenck and his partner first organized the Conway Pride Parade, Schenck said.
The tenth annual parade "to teach tolerance and acceptance" is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. in downtown Conway.
Schenck remembered the first event in 2004, when he and his partner, Robert Loyd, awoke the day of the parade to find manure piled on the streets around their painted pink residence, where parade participants were planning to line up at Robinson Avenue and Center Street.
"Last year there was not one protestor," Schenck said.
Protestors have dwindled since the first parade in 2004, when demonstrators lined Front Street and about 600 people gathered at a nearby silent prayer vigil sponsored by 25 local churches.
In the days leading up to the inaugural gay pride parade, a city alderman proposed a resolution that the city neither encourage nor condone the event. The motion died for lack of a second, to the displeasure of a packed council meeting.
Nine years later, Schenck said the event has a different feel.
In 2012, he said, about a third of parade participants and the crowd were made up of "straight allies" and their children.
"There were kids running around everywhere," he said.
The event has gained corporate sponsorship, and Schenck boasts of the variety of the vendors that set up at Simon Park, where the parade ends and a small festival begins.
"This is the third year Conway High FFA will be selling water. I think they might even bring cookies," he said.
For its tenth year, Schenck and Loyd have formed a partnership with Late Night at The Lantern, a branch of the black box Lantern Theatre on Van Ronkle Street, to present "The Laramie Project," a play that documents reactions to the 1998 murder of a young gay man in Wyoming.
The group has dedicated a showing that will be presented at the nearby theatre after the event concludes at Simon Park.
To commemorate the ten-year anniversary, The Lantern is selling Conway Pride Parade T-shirts. Shirts will also be available at the event.
Schenck said all are welcome to attend, and line-up for parade participants is at 1 p.m. at "the pink house," 1605 Robinson Ave.
The parade travels toward downtown on Robinson Avenue and turns left before Harkrider Street to its eventual end at Simon Park.
Schenck said he hopes to see 1,000 people for the 10th annual parade.
Of the parade’s future, Schenck said he and Loyd will continue to host it until they are the first gay couple to be legally married in Arkansas.
He said they’ve been together for 38 years.
"I’m tired of being a second class citizen. We’re the same as everyone else," said Schenck. "How many straight couples have been together, living and working together for 38 years?"
For more information about the event visit www.conwaypride.com.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)