The first Dallas Pride parade was in 1972, when about 300 people marched the streets in unison. Now, 44 years later, that number has grown into the thousands, and 2016 may prove the parade’s most important year yet.
Burke Burnett, one of the grand marshals for the parade this Sunday in Oak Lawn, remembers looking at pictures of the Dallas Pride Parade when he was a child and thinking: “There are people like me out there.” Burnett knew then he was not alone, and today he is an advocate for making sure others in the LGBT community never have to feel alone.
Burnett leads a group called SOS, which stands for “Survivors Offering Support.” SOS was formed in response to a series of violent attacks on gay men in Oak Lawn last year, the first happening shortly after the 2015 parade. Burnett himself is the survivor of a hate crime — he was attacked and bombarded with homophobic slurs at a party in Reno, Texas, in 2011.
The organization offers support for those in the LGBT community by having meetings once a month, by partnering with the Dallas Police Department to make the neighborhood more secure, and by offering assistance to victims of attacks, such as legal assistance and counseling services.
Burnett is also involved with the group Taking Back Oak Lawn, another organization that has helped pave the way to a safer neighborhood. New flood lights and cameras have been installed, and more officers patrol the area on foot and bicycle.
“A lot has been done over the past year in our local community to make it safer,” Burnett says. “Oak Lawn is safer this year than it was last year.”
There’s plenty to celebrate in the LGBT community. This weekend’s Dallas Pride parade will be the second since a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
“This year is special for me, because it’s the first time my husband and I are going to be attending as a legally married couple,” Burnett says. “I think it’s special for the community as a whole, because a lot of couples are going to be attending for the first time with their legally married spouses.”
This will also be the first time that Burnett and his husband attend the parade as parents, another triumph for the grand marshal.
The Dallas Pride Parade has come a long way since it began, and groups including SOS and Taking Back Oak Lawn have further strengthened Dallas’ LGBT community, which can count on advocates like Burnett and his fellow grand marshal, Todd Maria, founder of the LGBT sports team the Lost Souls Rugby Club, a group that regularly organizes and participates in local charity efforts. With the support of other Dallas residents, the city’s LGBT community is united and strong.
That is certainly something to be proud about.