‘We are showing where Marfa stands’: Pride Marfa brings revelry and reflection with city’s first official LGBTQ+ celebration

Lionel Hernandez and partner Jimmy Maywald, who have been together for over 17 years, got engaged this past weekend at Pride Marfa. Photo by Sarah Vasquez, courtesy Pride Marfa.

MARFA — Rainbow flags lined city thoroughfares and decorated local businesses this past weekend as Marfa played host to its first-ever city-wide gay Pride celebration — a landmark event that members of the local LGBTQ+ community said felt like a meaningful step forward. 

Lionel Hernandez — who grew up in Marfa, graduated form Marfa High School in 1975 and recently returned in 2019 — made quite the splash at the three-day event’s courthouse block party by proposing to his partner of over 17 years, Jimmy Maywald, who said yes. Hernandez said the success of Pride Marfa was a testament to the town becoming more receptive to LGBTQ+ individuals. 

“This weekend was not only historic, but something that will last in the memories of many people for many, many years,” said Hernandez. “This is the new old Marfa. This is my new old hometown. It feels good knowing that now you’re able to return as the person you have always wanted to be without facing animosity and feeling disenfranchised from the community.”

A daytime party at the courthouse took place on Saturday amidst a packed weekend of festivities, including a welcome party at Planet Marfa, dance party at the Sentinel and sendoff drag queen brunch at El Cosmico. It felt significant for established Marfa locations to offer their spaces for the celebrations, said one of the Pride Marfa’s organizers.

“The interesting thing about this event is we’re queering all of these spaces. We’re not going to a gay district. We’re not going to queer bar. We’re not going to queer club,” said Xavier Mcfarlin. “These places are already established in where they stand in their identity. All we’re doing is showing that they are willing to support us and our community with their venue that didn’t have to make a stance before.” 

p1nkstar performing at the Presidio County Courthouse this weekend for Pride Marfa’s inaugural celebration. Photo by Sarah Vasquez, courtesy Pride Marfa.

Mcfarlin said the event, at its core, was meant to create a space for people where they felt free to be themselves without judgment and empowered to try something new. 

“​​I think there’s a lot of people who went out of their comfort zone and have done things they’ve never done before, like get up on a stage in front of a whole courthouse lawn of people and propose to the love of their life,” said Mcfarlin. “If we wouldn’t have facilitated for them to have the space to get up and do that, or [make them feel] you’re seen here and heard. I don’t know if things like that would have happened.” 

Lawrence Johnson — another Pride Marfa organizer and co-founder of Pure for Men, the event’s primary sponsor, along with his partner Victor Hugo — worked with American Electric Power (AEP) to obtain permission to hang Pride flags on city street lights. Mcfarlin said the flags, and central location of the block party at the county courthouse, acted as powerful visual and cultural symbols of acceptance from the Marfa community as a whole. 

“I think we created this sanctuary city in the middle of this tri-county area,” said Mcfarlin. “We are showing where Marfa stands in larger West Texas.” 

James Scott, who grew up in Marfa, said the event was a reminder that without the queer community, which is responsible for many of the city’s artistic goings-on historically and in present day, the town would be losing out. 

“It’s the diversity that is the spice of life here. Without that diversity, this place would be so dull,” said Scott. “Marfa wouldn’t be what it is without queer artists and creatives coming here and finding a safe and accepting place to live and work.” 

Co-organizer Lauren Klotzman said the event’s organizers were spurred to create a Marfa-specific Pride celebration because there is a sizeable local queer community that deserves to have an occasion to celebrate their identity. 

“There are queer folks out in West Texas, here in Far West Texas, and to have this event is an important aspect of queer life,” said Klotzman. 

Fellow organizer Elise Pepple echoed Klotzman’s sentiments and said Pride Marfa’s focus from the start was to create an inclusive, accessible space that centered performers rather than VIPs with pricey passes. 

“This event was really centered on being welcoming for any person, whether it’s a kid, a parent, a queer [person] from West Texas,” said Peeple. “Then also really wanting for the VIPs at the event to be the talent.” 

County Commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley and her 11-year-old daughter Mikayla Bentley attend the Pride Marfa block party at the Presidio County Courthouse this past weekend. Photo by Sarah Vasquez, courtesy Pride Marfa.

Pride events are taking place across the state this month, including in small and medium-sized communities outside of major cities like Houston, Dallas and Austin that host large-scale Pride celebrations. Mcfarlin said Pride Marfa’s intimate size had its advantages, allowing for deeper connections to be made across generations and locales. “I think where real change happens is on these smaller little scales,” he said. “You can go to a big Pride and not be seen.” 

For Scott, it wasn’t just about who was present at the celebration, but who was absent — his friend Ben Castro, who debuted his drag persona Koko Flan at a drag event in Marfa in summer 2019, passed away this fall. 

“I wish that he could have seen Pride weekend. I just kept thinking, I wish he was here so we could experience this together. He would have been the real star of Pride,” said Scott. 

Scott said for the queer community that grew up in Marfa and currently lives in town, the event felt like it was just for them. 

“It’s even more thrilling, because I got to experience it with my husband and son. Something else I never thought possible,” said Scott. “I’m standing on the courthouse lawn, surrounded by queer people and amazing friends, holding my family’s hands, and thinking this might be one of the most unbelievable and magical moments of my life.” 

James Scott and Brain Neal Sensabaugh, the first gay couple to get married in Presidio County, with their son Jacob Scott-Sensabaugh. Photo by Sarah Vasquez, courtesy Pride Marfa.

Saturday’s daytime, family-friendly block party, in which blow-up rainbow arches lined the courthouse’s Highland Avenue entrance, saw attendees sporting newly-acquired Pride Marfa trucker hats and tank tops, browsing vendor booths and dancing along to a high energy performance from Austin-based popstar p1nkstar. 

Vendors included the more politically-focused Presidio County Democratic Party, who was registering people to vote, and the newly-formed Big Bend Reproductive Coalition, which was sharing educational materials and resources about abortion and miscarriage management. Mcfarlin said the representation of the local political and activist groups was a vital inclusion. 

“This is political — Pride is a protest,” said Mcfarlin. 

Upbeat music flooded the summer air as children chased giant bubbles and block party-goers lounged in the shaded grass provided by the lawn’s mature trees. Some sat for face paintings by co-organizer Paul Chavarria, who was utilizing a variety of neon yellows, pinks and oranges and generous amounts of glitter to paint on Pride flags and eye wing designs. Mcfarlin said the participation of children and families, who attended numerous Pride events, was particularly special at the block party. 

“The courthouse lawn was probably the most eye opening and surprising [event] that we did the whole weekend. I mean, nightlife will always be there and nightlife is important. But I think that at that moment, on that lawn, I saw a difference. I really did,” said Mcfarlin. 

Lionel Hernandez, now engaged to his longtime partner after their public courthouse proposal, said they are hoping to get married during next year’s Pride weekend in the dome of the Presidio County Courthouse. 

“I guess the time clock is now ticking,” Hernandez laughs. 

For Hernandez and other members of the local queer community who grew up in Marfa, the event prompted reflection on how far their hometown has come in terms of queer visibility. Hernandez, who left town in ‘92 and recently moved back to serve as his uncle’s full-time caretaker, said growing up gay in the tiny West Texas town was challenging, especially during his final years as a junior and senior at Marfa High School when he was outed to his fellow classmates. 

“I’m in a position to compare Marfa as it was back in the ‘70s when I was in high school, and now in 2022. It has literally done a complete [180] degree turn from not being receptive and open to people of alternate sexual persuasions,” said Hernandez. “It was tough.”

His brother Danny helped him get through his remaining high school years, said Hernandez, who took cautionary measures such as traveling a lesser-known route to school to avoid being bullied. 

“It was the path that I would go to guarantee myself to not be met with insults, put downs on the way to school. So I just [went] to school and [came] back home,” said Hernandez. “I led a very private, secluded life, just to keep from dealing with the oppression.” 

Back when he was growing up, Hernandez said, there was an open transwoman in town that would go out in public dressed in drag — that visibility, which at times resulted in negative attention, helped him realize he wasn’t alone. 

Hernandez’s summer trips to California to visit his aunt and uncle were also illuminating, he said. He recalled scanning the Los Angeles yellow pages for listings of gay clubs and organizations, which made him aware of the communities that were out there. 

Fortunately for him, he said, his mother and father were ultimately accepting of his identity, even becoming representatives in the tri-county area for the organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PLAG), offering support for other local parents who were also facing challenges upon their children coming out. 

Scott, who lived in Marfa from the ages of 13 and 26 and is now living in Houston working as an elementary school teacher, said his move as a queer teen from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Marfa, Texas, was a total culture shock and he initially had a hard time assimilating until a local teacher took him under his wing. 

I didn’t really have any role models at first in Marfa. When I got to high school, I had a queer math teacher, who I am still friends with, who gave me some great advice early on about living in a world that didn’t always accept who we were and that our job was to be true to ourselves and not let the hate win. I’ll always remember that,” said Scott. 

He said by the time he came out and graduated from high school, Marfa was transforming for the better. Scott said as a young queer kid interested in the arts — he would go on to earn a degree in theatre from Sul Ross State University — the town was an outlet.

“Instead of dreaming of leaving this little town, the arts and artists kept me here. I think it must be so much easier as a queer kid now, because there are so many queer people who live or pass through this town,” said Scott. 

Hernandez, too, graduated from Marfa High School and went on to study at Sul Ross, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1979. He said Marfa has changed a lot since his youth, and while in many aspects is still a divided community, was making promising steps forward in regards to cross sections of the community accepting one another.

“Now that we know that there are people who are moving here who are eager to make this their home and assimilate with the rest of the community, we’re moving towards that common goal of being a proud community that respects and treats everyone equally,” said Hernandez.

“This is all about community. This is all about diversity. It’s not just about the drag queens,” he added.

Of his pending nuptials, Hernandez underscored a tone of concern for the current political climate in regards to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which formally recognized marriage between same sex couples, which some fear could be overturned if the Supreme Court decides to overturn another landmark decision for civil rights, Roe v. Wade. 

“I was told in high school that I would never see the day that I would get married,” said Hernandez. “And then Obama signs it into law. I was like, I can die now, I can now marry the person who I choose, regardless of sex. I hate to say it, but that too, is now in danger. But we shall continue to fight and we shall continue to persevere.” 

For more information or to find out how to get involved with the organization, visit pridemarfa.org. To submit feedback about Pride Marfa 2022, email [email protected]