Bisbee Pride celebrates 18th year after COVID-19 hiatus

In one of Arizona’s most famous small towns, where cowboys and hippies coexist, official Pride celebrations have returned to Bisbee after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In 2020, the event was held virtually and last year the organizer, Bisbee Pride Inc., a non-profit organization, was unable to obtain the necessary permits. Instead, organizers worked with local businesses to host alternative vendors and events.

“Everyone was spread out, so there wasn’t a lot of togetherness,” said Liz Hosler, 50, who is from Bisbee but is flying in from Phoenix for the event. This year, Hosler said it was amazing to celebrate Pride in Bisbee again.

“Everyone is smiling…everyone is just doing their thing,” she said.

This year is Bisbee Pride’s 18th year of celebrating the LGBTQ community.

The four-day event features a variety of activities, shows and parties, including a drag show, parade, street dance party and more.

Early Saturday morning before the festivities began, a few tourists strolled through the quiet, quaint streets of Bisbee.

One of them was Antonio Vasquez, who came over from Phoenix for the weekend.

“I heard Pride was great fun here,” said Vasquez, who came to celebrate Pride with his family and experience a change of scenery. “It’s quaint and cute, it’s just a whole different vibe.”

Doug Morgan also drove from Phoenix for Bisbee Pride, bringing his husband, Ronnie Lamboso, to celebrate Lamboso’s first-ever Pride celebration.

Morgan said while having a Pride event in rural Arizona seems normal these days, 25 years ago, he never dreamed of celebrating Pride in a town like Bisbee.

Doug Morgan (right) and Ronnie Lamboso traveled from Phoenix to Bisbee for Lamboso's first Pride experience.

For Morgan, Pride celebrations mean “respect, freedom, it means everything,” he said. “That’s the great thing about Pride. People aren’t judged. It’s very open. Every Gay Pride is open.”

How did a traditionally conservative mining town become so tolerant?

Ramon Garcia, president and CEO of Bisbee Pride Inc., said the town changed after the mines closed. According to Queen Mine Tours, the mines closed in 1975.

“A lot of people left Bisbee to follow mining trends and business wherever they could. It left a lot of vacancies,” he said. “It horribly reduced the population of Bisbee.”

Garcia said artists, hippies and others attracted to the area’s affordable and plentiful real estate began moving into town.

“Artist communities tended to be more liberal, open and tolerant,” Garcia said, adding that he never faced discrimination growing up in Bisbee.

Bisbee has made national headlines for her support of LGBTQ people. In 2013, the city became the first city in Arizona to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

Although Garcia joined Bisbee Pride eight years ago, the movement actually started in 2004 when a group of friends decided to have a picnic. Since then, it has evolved into an enduring celebration of the LGBTQI+ movement.

Garcia said Pride not only helped the gay community, but also helped businesses during a particularly slow tourist month.

“We wanted to keep business flowing and that economic boost in the arm during a very slow time in our tourism economy,” Garcia said.

In a typical year, the event draws 3,000 to 6,000 people, Garcia said, adding that this year the event drew double the number of vendors compared to a typical year.

Kerri Clark, 60, and her family sat on her truck bed parked along Main Street, waiting for the Pride Parade to start. She had visited Bisbee for years before becoming a resident.

She said it was the diversity and acceptance that drew her to Bisbee.

The essence of Bisbee is summed up in a phrase that her grandson often says.

“He says, ‘I can put on my funky hat and jacket and shoes and nobody cares here,'” Clark said. “They just accept you. That’s who you are. That’s what we love here.”

Reach Report for America reporter Sarah Lapidus at [email protected] Follow Sarah Lapidus on Twitter @lapidus_sarah.

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