Diversity Weekend celebrates city’s spirit of inclusion

There was no way the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse was going to overshadow Diversity Weekend in Eureka Springs. The celebration of stars would have to wait.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community were celebrating all over the city April 5-7, just ahead of the eclipse on Monday. Activities included “Diversity in the Park” with vendors and Mom Hugs in Basin Park, a drag brunch at Wanderoo Lodge and drag bingo at Brews. Diversity Weekend is organized by Jay Wilks and Out in Eureka.

At noon Saturday, perhaps Eureka Springs’ most famous member of the LGBTQ+ community, painter Zeek Taylor, spoke at Basin Park to kick off the weekend’s festivities.

“As we gather together to celebrate and embrace the rich tapestry of identities and experiences that make up our community, it is important to recognize the incredible progress that has been made in recent years towards equality and acceptance for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Eureka Springs,” Taylor said.

“This town has long been known for its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, where love knows no boundaries and everyone is encouraged to be their true, authentic selves,” he added.

Taylor and his husband were the first gay couple to marry in Arkansas when the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in 2014. Since then, they’ve sat for interviews with media around the world.

The following year, Eureka Springs residents voted to uphold a comprehensive, city-wide non-discrimination ordinance. The legislation bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations against people based on their race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background and a number of other important categories.

“One of the most beautiful aspects of being gay in Eureka Springs is the overwhelming sense of community and solidarity that we all share,” Taylor added. “Here, we are not just neighbors or friends — we are a family, bound together by our shared experiences and our commitment to supporting one another in our journey towards self-acceptance and empowerment.”

Members of the national nonprofit Free Mom Hugs were out in force in the park Saturday, showing support and offering warm embraces to Diversity Weekend participants. Advocates celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation.

About the same time over at the Wanderoo Lodge, owner David Avanzino and his partner, Ethan, ran herd over “Patti’s Pajama Drag Brunch,” a fundraiser that pulled down nearly $1,400 for Trans USA National Pageantry. The organization “promotes the development of transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming leaders as visual advocates and role models for the community at large.”

Except for a $100 anonymous donation to kick off Patti Le Plae Safe’s orchestrated drag show, many of the donations came in $1 bills placed in the hands of the performers.

“Everything we do helps someone who needs help,” Le Plae Safe said.

Diversity Weekend is held in the spring, summer and fall in addition to a Pride Celebration in June. LGBTQIA+ community members and advocates came from as far away as Little Rock, Wichita and Kansas City to attend.

■ Diversity Weekend photos / Page 6