Summer of pride planned for West Texas

When Jordan Varner is not at his day job, he is soldering jewelry for drag queens or he is performing on stage himself.
He has lived in states across the country including New Mexico and Idaho, but he noticed something was missing when he moved to Odessa.
“We don’t really have our own pride,” he said.
The month of June is nationally recognized as Pride month to honor the achievements and impact members of the queer community have had on history, along with those who were lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS, the Library of Congress website states. The month-long celebration often includes a variety of events and resources to educate the public and promote solidarity.
What is often referred to as the LGBT community has expanded to encompass a broader range of sexual orientation and gender identities and the abbreviation has tacked on a few more letters as a result.
The LGBTQIA population acknowledges those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and the last letter represents both asexual people and allies to the community.
Varner has contributed to fundraising and philanthropy efforts for the queer community in other cities through the International Imperial Court System, one of the oldest and largest LGBT organizations in the world, and hopes to continue his work here.
“I thought well Odessa needs something,” he said, and the Odessa pride pageant was created.
When asked why he would foot the bill for such an event and spend hours making jewelry for the pageant winners, he said “because I love my community.”
Varner is organizing the event on his own and has arranged special performances to take place in between pageant categories, where he will also perform under his drag name Alane Change Ashton.
The event is open to anyone 18 years of age or older and there is no deadline to register.
Other local organizations like Out in West Texas had a similar thought pattern to Varner when it comes to representation in Midland-Odessa.
Maureena Benavides, Out in West Texas co-founder, said a mix of local organizations are banding together to add pride events to the calendar throughout this summer.
Benavides said a vigil will be held on Wednesday to honor the 49 victims who were killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting that took place on June 12, 2016 in Orlando.
“That was the largest massacre in our country that was targeted directly at the LGBT population,” she said.
Benevides is also a local counselor who specialized in providing mental health counseling to members of the transgender community and said spreading awareness is a year-long effort needed in the community to reduce stigma, fear and violence.
“A lot of people worry about losing their job, losing their family or losing their faith (if they come out as LGBT),” she said. “Those are things are very real for people.”