BRYAN, TX — It’s been six years since gay marriage was legalized for Texan couples, and though social progress has been made in the Brazos Valley community, local teacher Fabi Payton knows that daily life can still be hard for non-hetero adults and kids.
“There was a moment of awakening for me," said Payton, the founder of non-profit organization I Heart Bryan. "I had some students – I'm a school teacher- come out to me this year and share their stories and their hearts. And some of the things they shared hurt me very deeply; [them] feeling unsafe in our community. And having worked in our community, I knew that that wasn’t the wish or desire of our community.”
As a leader within I Heart Bryan, Payton felt it was time Aggieland did something special for Pride Month. So, she joined forces with Halo, an historic gay bar in downtown Bryan, to organize two events to take place Friday night.
Starting at 6 p.m., a family friendly resource fair would provide services for LGBTQ locals.
"We have organizations out here [including] a transgender education nurse," said Halo manager Jai Girard. "We have some stuff from the health department they have to set up. I know OSTEM from Texas A&M is coming out, which is ‘Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.’
Additionally, visitors could enjoy a meet-and-greet with Bryan police chief Eric Buske, who literally embraced the message of Pride Month, covered in rainbows and giving free supportive hugs.
Jai Girard said Brazos County hasn’t always been the easiest place to live for gay and transgender people. She moved to town in the early 2000s, initially hoping to join the military, but afraid of being forced out as a gay woman during the time of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’
“It was very scary here in 2005," Girard commented. "Up until 2010 it was pretty scary. I had friends who were out who got beat up at Northgate. And they weren’t even holding hands or anything. They just ‘looked’ gay.”
The organizers of Friday's events, which were collectively dubbed ‘Come Out in Downtown Bryan,’ hoped that what would take place at First Friday would be the promotion of love and acceptance from the Bryan-College station population. People like Payton believe Brazos County has always had a collective heart ready to do good.
"What I’ve found is we have deep Christian roots," Payton said, noting she had researched the history of the area. "And in Christianity there is some theology and differences of opinion when it comes to the LGBT community. But one thing that’s never wavered, is godly love.”