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FARMINGTON — There’s no way to tell how the first parade staged by the local LGBT community will be received when it takes place on Main Street through downtown this weekend. But one of the event’s chief organizers is pleased with how people have reacted to it so far.

MP Schildmeyer, who chairs the committee that is staging the Farmington Pride 2016 parade, said last week that preparations for the event were going smoothly. Schildmeyer spoke to The Daily Times before gunman Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Saturday night, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more.

“When you start something that’s never been done before, you don’t have a lot of experience to rely on,” said Schildmeyer, who has lived here for seven years. “I’ve experienced big (Pride) parades in Atlanta and Kansas City, so I’m familiar with how they go in places like that. But every place is different. To me, it’s been so exciting to see what the response has been. We haven’t gotten any negative feedback from people.”

On Tuesday, Judy Palier, the president of Identity Inc., the local nonprofit organization that operates the downtown LGBT community center, was sounding a more somber approach, but she emphasized the Pride parade would go on as scheduled. She said she spoke to Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe Sunday morning about the security precautions for the parade, and Hebbe told her he had decided to devote more officers to the event.

"We will have great protection," Palier said. "We do not really expect any trouble."

Schildmeyer had no prediction for how many people would take part in the parade, but she said organizers were hoping at least 200 people would march or ride a float. The parade will begin on West Main Street, with the Church’s Chicken parking lot at 725 W. Main St. serving as the staging area. The parade route then runs east on Main Street through downtown to Butler Avenue, ending at the KFC location at 532 E. Main St., resulting in a route of approximately 1.5 miles.

Schildmeyer said last week that a half dozen floats already had been entered, and a coalition marching band made up of musicians from various local high schools was planning on participating.

She said organizers also had mounted a slogan of “Will You Walk With Us?” for the event in an attempt to persuade friends of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to take part.

“In no way is this restricted to the LGBT community per se,” Schildmeyer said. “We’re seeking and asking allies, ‘Will you walk with us?’ If we can get a lot of people to do that, it will be a good sign of the status of the LGBT community here compared to how it might have been in the past.”

The notion of having those friends of the LGBT community join the parade on Saturday takes on added significance after the events of last weekend, Palier said.

"We're going to keep being who we are and doing what we're doing," she said. "Because if we stop out of fear, then the people who hate us have won. We hope all our friends and allies will be standing with us."

The parade will be one of three Pride-related events taking place Saturday. A Pride picnic will take place from noon to 6 p.m. in Berg Park, and a Pride dance will take place at 7 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott.

Schildmeyer said visitors are free to bring their lunch to the picnic, but there will be food vendors on hand. The event also will feature booths operated by various organizations, as well as speakers.

The Four Corners LGBT Group is staging the dance. Group President Morgan Wiggins said the event is restricted to those 18 and older, and visitors must be 21 or older to drink. The event will feature a DJ and drag performers from Albuquerque.

Wiggins said his organization meets at 3 p.m. the last Saturday of each month at the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship Building, 219 N. Orchard Ave. in Farmington, and everyone is welcome to attend.

This may be the biggest Pride celebration the city has ever seen, but it is not the first. Palier said a Pride celebration has been held each June here for the last five years, beginning with a potluck dinner in a local park that drew 30 people.

“The next year, we had 75, then 120 or 130 the year after that,” she said. “It’s been getting bigger every year.”

Palier said Schildmeyer came to her last fall and asked about the possibility of staging a Pride parade, and Palier gave the idea her blessing — sort of.

“As long as I’m not in charge of it,” Palier said.

Both Palier and Schildmeyer said city officials have been very cooperative and helpful, especially Hebbe.

The Pride celebration also coincides with the relocation of the Identity Inc. Community Center to its new home at 204 W. Main St., a move that will save the financially strapped organization up to $300 a month. The group nearly was forced to close its community center in May because it couldn’t pay its bills, but an outpouring of financial support from local donors allowed the organization to weather the storm.

Palier noted that many of the donations that Identity Inc. received during that crisis came from the straight community.

“And that’s wonderful,” she said.

Palier said she’s been asked periodically why the local LGBT community feels the need to stage a Pride parade.

“For most of my life, certainly, LGBT people have been forced into the shadows,” she said. “They’ve been afraid of losing their jobs or their homes or their families — or their lives. The point of a parade is to come out of the shadows. We’re trying to show people we are your brothers, sisters, friends and co-workers.”

Schildmeyer noted that public opinion and the law seem to be changing at an exponential rate these days, as she said she never expected to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land in her lifetime. She said she finally was able to marry her longtime partner when the U.S. Supreme Court institutionalized same-sex marriage.

She views the Pride parade as an affirming event for the local LGBT community.

“We hope to show the people of Farmington and the Four Corners the LGBT community definitely exists in Farmington — that we’re here to stay, that we plan to keep the rights we have, that we plan to reach full equality and that we know how to have fun,” she said.

That last point wasn’t lost on Palier, even after the tragedy in Orlando.

"This was a very sad event," she said of the shooting. "It is horrific that these (49) people were gunned down for being themselves. But we will not let fear define us. We will be marching. We will be celebrating at Berg Park. We can't go back in the closet because people hate us. We've always known people hate us."

Palier acknowledged that the tragedy is likely to change the tone of the event, but she said that won't make it a sad gathering.

"I think we'll go out there and celebrate who we are, to each other and to the world. Every year, we could talk about 50 people who died because they were LGBT, whether they were victims of violence or suicide. Those are the conditions under which we live. We're not afraid, and they're not going to force us back into the closet. ... I still expect (the Pride parade) to be joyful."

Schildmeyer echoed that assessment, explaining that it matters little how many people take part in the parade.

“Even if we have 10 people and two floats, it will be a success because it’s happening,” she said.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Farmington Pride 2016 parade

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: Main Street between Lake Street and Butler Avenue

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What: Pride picnic

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: Berg Park in Farmington

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What: Pride Dance

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: The Courtyard by Marriott, 560 Scott Ave. in Farmington

Tickets: $15 at the door, $10 with a student ID

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