SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – For 22 years, Sioux Falls Pride has been creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their identities and be themselves. A celebration held now each June with a Pride parade and festival was much different in the beginning.

The Sioux Falls Pride Festival in 2021 saw thousands of people downtown, despite the rain.

Twenty-two years ago, as the organization was just getting started, celebrations were much more humble.

“It was the back room of a bar or somebody’s backyard or even a patio or even at a park. So yeah, its definitely grown and evolved over the years,” Todd Shelburg, who helped form Sioux Falls Pride, said.

The event eventually moved to Terrace Park. Then, last year, the Pride Festival moved downtown. In 2019, Sioux Falls saw its first Pride Parade.

“I walked with my boyfriend Sean, my mom as well. And like, turning the corner onto Phillips Avenue was really great to see. A very emotional moment because it’s something that we never thought that we could do before,” Adam Jorgensen, a former Sioux Falls Pride board member said.

Each year, the Pride celebrations in Sioux Falls have gotten bigger and bigger.

“It’s amazing to see all the people come out and celebrate and support. It’s nerve-wracking because we got to find a place big enough for all those people to come and make sure that they feel safe and we got all our bases covered,” Matt Neufeld, President of Sioux Falls Pride, said.

Support for the LGBTQ+ community also continues to grow. Walking down Phillips Avenue you’ll find multiple Pride flags flying and welcoming rainbow signs on doors. Just five years ago you might not have seen that.

“And they’re not supportive just for the month of June, they’re supportive year-round and that’s what it should be like. Pride isn’t just one month or one weekend out of the year, it should be year-round,” Shelburg said.

No matter how big or small the celebration, Sioux Falls Pride just wants to create a safe space for the city’s LGBTQ+ community.

“Places for people to go to celebrate, be who they are, be comfortable with who they are,” Neufeld said.

The organization now plans to do more advocacy work within the state legislature.

“I think transitioning or taking the efforts with Sioux Falls Pride, which is very well-known and popular, and connecting people to how their vote and the political process impacts their lives as well, I think, is super important,” Jorgensen said. “And I think its really smart to do that also because there’s so many people that don’t see that connection between, you know, the legislature, the laws and how our lives are every day.”

While Sioux Falls Pride has a large visibility each year with the parade and festival, they do wish there was more connection with the mayor’s office.

“Back when Mike Huether was mayor, he would come out and read the proclamation and show us his support. We have not received that with the current administration,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld says Mayor Paul TenHaken declined to attend Pride celebrations this year because they are the same weekend as Father’s Day.

“And he’s got family, he’s got plans, so that’s fine,” Neufeld said. “We asked him to record a message that we could play at Pride, just another opportunity for him to show support since he would be out of town, and his office declined that opportunity as well.”

He says support from the mayor would be validation for the organization and the LGBTQ+ community.

“It lets us know that we are accepted here in Sioux Falls, we are part of One Sioux Falls,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld says city councilman Pat Starr has been the one to read the proclamation at the Pride Festival each year since TenHaken took office.

“We’ve got some work to do, we’re trying to build some bridges there and build some relationship. So it’s a work in progress but hopefully, it’s one going forward for us,” Neufeld said.

In a statement sent to KELOLAND News, BryAnn Becker Knecht, Mayor’s Office Communications Coordinator said: “The Mayor has issued a Pride Month proclamation every year since taking office, each of which was provided at the request of Sioux Falls Pride. He remains willing to do so, as he consistently does for dozens of diverse community groups, events and individuals. The Mayor is grateful to lead a community that provides each individual the opportunity to attend and celebrate events as they choose.”

Still, the growth Sioux Falls Pride has seen in the last 22 years is inspiring.

“It’s been a good thing, it’s been a long time coming because I remember when I first moved to Sioux Falls things weren’t as progressive as they are now. So it’s grown a lot, the community has helped a lot,” Shelburg said.

“It’s a march, it’s a celebration but it’s standing up for our rights,” Neufeld said. “I hope people take away that, like I said, we are a part of this community, we are humans. We aren’t asking for anything extra or special. We’re asking for equal rights and equal treatment.”

“Take it beyond the festival. Keep paying attention and keep being a part of your community when you can,” Jorgensen said.

The 2022 Sioux Falls Pride Festival starts June 18th. Click here for your guide to all of this year’s events.