ST. LOUIS – Pride St. Louis kicked off its 2022 PrideFest weekend festivities on Saturday.
The celebration was canceled last two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In previous years, PrideFest weekend has drawn up to 300,000 people in the St. Louis region.
Organizers and the FBI are working to keep visitors safe after an attempted attack at a similar event in Idaho two weeks before.
“Be in the moment, and have a good time,” was the invitation from parade director Jordan Braxton. “Come live your most open, authentic, and unapologetic self.”
Braxton and other organizers are looking forward to the two-day festivities, which celebrate LGBTQ+ history and community members. For day two of the event, when a parade is planned on Market Street, she also asked a favor.
“Help us look out for each other,” said Braxton. “We are a community, and we need to watch each other’s back.”
On Saturday, June 7, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin. It warned of possible domestic terrorism acts at large events, like Pride celebrations. Earlier this month, 31 men were arrested, accused of attempting to riot at the PRIDE parade in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. A man from Missouri and a man from Illinois were arrested in that group. Police say they all were part of the white-supremacist group Patriot Front.
“We will work very aggressively to protect the Civil Rights of anybody who wants to engage in an open event such as PrideFest or anything of the sort,” said Assistant Special Agent in charge of the FBI St. Louis Office Mark Dargis.
He added, the bureau knows of no specific or credible threat to the PrideFest celebration in St. Louis. Dargis still hopes people would say something if they see, or even feel, something.
“If there’s anything at all that you see that is suspicious or gives you alarm, gives you that weird gut feeling that, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,’ tell somebody,” said Dargis.
The FBI would not patrol PrideFest St. Louis. But Dargis said, the bureau shares information with local police on the streets for such events. Braxton said, all these eyes on the event were comforting.
“I love the fact that we have that communication, that relationship with our local agencies to make sure that the LGBTQIA+ community is kept safe.”
Dean Kathie Adams-Shepherd of Christ Church Cathedral would help lead Sunday’s interfaith service at PrideFest. She said she got some disturbing news Friday, the day the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned the Roe v. Wade decision granting abortion access across the country.
National leaders with The Episcopal Church notified clergy there was a threat against clergy members who assist with abortion access. In an email, the FBI St. Louis field office confirmed the bureau is investigating attacks and threats, nationwide, against pregnancy-resource centers and faith-based organizations.
Still, Dean Adams-Shephered said the service would go on, just with a little extra vigilance.
“I think just being aware of who’s around us, and not overly, but who’s around us,” said Adams-Shepherd.
She added that supportive clergy could not stay inside the confines of the church for PRIDE weekend.
“It’s important for those of us who are allies to step out and say, ‘We are you, our community is full of LGBTQIA+ allies and siblings, and be you. Come be you with us.’”
The FBI asks anyone with information on possible threats to call 911 or submit tips online.