A frigid North Texas cold front whistled through Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton. Dozens of people were buzzing about the space in preparation for the second Trans Pride Fest on November 11. Musicians chatted while organizers set up tables with information about local community groups, including Denton Food Not Bombs, Denton Transit Postingand DFW Socialist Rifle Association. A handful of artists also had tables selling wares throughout the night.
Trans Pride Fest is more than a colorful night of music, community, and art. For many, it’s an invaluable source of inspiration and support for exploring their identity. It’s a place where they can be themselves without fear.
“I didn’t realize I was trans until I was in my 20s,” said River, vocalist for the band Ballista. “Growing up, there wasn’t much trans representation in media, and if there was any, it wasn’t positive. I ignored a lot of signs that I was trans. Trans Pride Fest allows a whole lot of trans people and allies to get together and experience trans-ness in all its glory.”
Trans Pride Fest held its first event on April 29, 2022, on the south lawn of the University of North Texas’ student union, featuring two bands and a handful of community organizations. This time around, the festival expanded to include 21 bands, 18 artists, and eight local organizations over eight hours on a Friday night.
“The first Trans Pride Fest was just so successful that they weren’t able to do it at the Union again,” said Chad Withers, general manager of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. “They reached out to us and we love hosting stuff and being here for the community.”
When the doors officially opened, attendees flooded into the venue. For the next few hours, bands played nonstop across two stages. For some in the audience, this was their second Trans Pride Fest.
“I really liked the energy of the festival last semester,” said Luna, an audience member. “It’s so nice to interact with other people within the trans community.”
Denton County, home to many rural and semi-rural communities, leans conservative. Governor Greg Abbott won the county by a double-digit percentage of votes, reflecting a similar margin across the state. But within that red sea is an oasis of progressives centered around the University of North Texas and the adjacent music scene in the city of Denton. It’s become a minor mecca for artistic and gender-nonconforming people in North Texas.
“I always used to joke that all the cool people you grew up with moved to Denton,” said Clover, drummer for the band As the Grass Withers, The Flower Fades. “I didn’t feel like I could really start experimenting with my identity or putting myself forward as the person that I am until I found the right community. I feel very lucky to have that.”
In the face of an increasingly hostile political climate marked by a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ mobilizations and legislative proposals from the far-right wing of the Texas GOP, Trans Pride Fest participants remain defiant.
“As much as I would love to move out of Texas because I hate the political views and how trans people are treated I cannot get myself out of Denton,” said Bowie Brae, lead vocalist for the band Nip Slip. “The LGBTQ community is really supportive here, especially the music scene.”
The joyous comradery of Trans Pride Fest has drawn a colorful and diverse crowd two years in a row. Unfortunately, it has also attracted trolls and bigots who sought to disrupt the first festival in April.
The first Trans Pride Fest was hosted in response to Jeff Younger, then District 63 candidate for the Texas House, who spoke at UNT about “criminalizing child transitions,” as well as the rising prominence gained by UNT’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas and its spokesperson, Kelly Neidert.
The April event saw crowds gather on UNT’s south lawn, where they took advantage of a warm spring day to hear music, but it also saw trolls looking to disrupt the atmosphere. Neidert, along with former Texas GOP staffer (and self-proclaimed “ex-gay”) Kevin Whitt, and conservative media personalities Alex Stein and Alex Rosen, yelled abuse through megaphones at people enjoying the afternoon.
With the help of community defense organizations, that first event continued despite attempts to shut it down by Neidert and company. The second time around, a combination of volunteer community defense and the private venue space provided by Rubber Gloves were used to prevent a repeat of April’s disruption.
“We learned from what happened at the first festival and we’ve been working nonstop to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Violet, a director for Don’t Mess With Trans Texans.
He praised the venue for their support. “[Rubber] Gloves is a fantastic venue. They really care about the people who go there and they really care about event safety and that was one of our biggest priorities.”
With the state government ramping up its attacks on trans and LGBTQ+ rights, Violet said it’s more important than ever for people to have a place where they can safely be themselves. “Especially in Texas, transphobia isn’t going away. So why should we?” he added.