Pride Peace Walk Draws Hundreds in St. Cloud [GALLERY]
ST. CLOUD -- Each one of the 250 people who stood near Lake George in the hot, late summer sun on Wednesday night had their own reason for being there.
For Manuel Molina, the inaugural Community Pride and Peace Walk was particularly personal.
"Honestly, for me ... I haven't been able to really celebrate my sexuality anywhere. I've moved around a lot. Just seeing everybody come together has been really cool for me."
Molina lived in St. Cloud 12 years ago and moved back recently to be near his family. He says the LGBTQ+ community has changed a lot in that time.
"It's a lot bigger," Molina says. "Before, it was difficult for people to get together on this level. Seeing this is really amazing for me - and now that I'm more comfortable with myself, it's really reassuring."
The Community Pride and Peace Walk began at the St. Cloud Public Library's Mississippi room with participants making signs and other decorations. At 5 p.m., the group meandered across Division Street to the Lake George band shell to sing songs, led by a local choir.
Participants were also encouraged to write positive messages on strips of ribbon and tie them to a tree stationed at the end of the walk.
Event organizer and St. Cloud Pride member Dexter Hanson says the event was planned by a coalition of local churches and faith-based organizations, and had been in the works since May.
"There were many, many meetings. A lot of planning," Hanson laughed.
Hanson says the event is designed to welcome everyone.
"It's breathtaking to see this much diversity in one group," Hanson says. "We're standing together to show love is love. We don't love just one subset of people - we love all people."
Molina says the gathering left him feeling uplifted.
Some people may not agree with it it, or like it, but it won't deter me from being who I am. It's a good lesson for the younger generation. Not everyone will like you or agree with you, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be yourself."
This is St. Cloud 10th Pride Week celebration, with events scheduled through Sunday.