Hundreds gathered at Simon Park on Sunday afternoon to show support for tolerance and acceptance for the LGBTQ community during the 15th Annual Conway Pride Parade and Festival.
The parade kicked off the event, beginning at the Pink House on Robinson Avenue. Participants marched from their safe zone — the infamous Pink House — that many have called home over the years through downtown Conway, ending at Simon Park. The parade, which began at 2 p.m. kick started the event's festivities, which continued through 6 p.m.
A schedule of entertainers performed for the welcoming crowd that peacefully gathered to celebrate Conway's pride as local vendors stood onsite along with food trucks and an AR Cares truck that offered onsite HIV screenings.
For several attendees, including Ashi Franke, it was the first Conway Pride Parade and Festival they'd participated in.
Having these types of events is encouraging for members of the LGBTQ community, Franke said.
"The visibility means so much," she said. "To have everyone come together like this and be so visible is empowering for our community."
While this was the first Conway Pride event she's attended, Franke said she did not feel our of place and said she believes more should attend the annual event in the future.
"It's really great," she said, noting it was an emotional moment for her as she watched those in the parade make their way to Simon Park. "I almost cried when I first showed up. You spend so many years in the closet and then to see all these people out here showing the rainbow flag ... it's almost like being in a different place and time."
The event also honors John Schenck and Robert Loyd, who founded the parade together. The two were nationally recognized gay rights advocates and the first same-sex couple to sign their marriage license at the Faulkner County Clerk's office after the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages.
The couple shared more than 40 years together before Loyd died Dec. 30, 2015. Schenck followed his soulmate's death in 2016.
Justin Rawls, one of the couple's sons, spoke in honor of his "daddies" during Sunday's event.
"We want to remember them today," he said before the crowd as he stood on the Kris Allen stage. "Without them, none of us would be here. The Pink House wouldn't be here — everything would still be taboo and nobody would be talking about this. I wouldn't be up here in ruby slippers right now. They paved the way for everything, and especially the youth."
Schenck and Loyd created a safe place for youth who were shunned and kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation.
The couple provided a sense of togetherness, belonging and family to those who otherwise felt they didn't belong to a family, Vickers said.
Conway Pride will continue to hold a strong presence in the community and promote LGBTQ awareness in the area, she said.
"I've been a part of Conway Pride for over 10 years," Vickers, who first attended the Conway Pride Parade in 2005, said Sunday. "It's very important to me to keep Conway Pride's legacy going to make John and Bobby proud and to make the community a safe space and a place they [the LGBTQ] community can truly be themselves and celebrate, especially here in Conway."