BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - A Region 8 American Legion post will be the first in Northeast Arkansas to host an LGBT Pride event.
Post 114 in Batesville will hold a pride festival Tuesday starting at noon.
Post 114 Commander James Olsen said the event is meant to remind veterans and service men and women that they are all supported by the organization.
Olsen said the event is nothing out of the ordinary, it is just a way to show support for veterans like they do every single day.
"The American Legion honors, accepts, respects all of our service people and all of our veterans," American Legion supporter Collin Brown said.
While Collin Brown is not a Legion member, he is a longtime supporter of veterans and the American Legion mission.
"People who serve this country, risk their life to serve this country, they are honored and respected by this organization," Brown said.
So when Brown brought up the idea of having a pride event to remind gay veterans they are also supported, Post 114 Commander Olsen agreed.
"We thought it was a great idea, we thought you know everyone needs recognition, veterans, and current service people," Olsen said.
In fact, the post wanted the opportunity to remind every veteran that the post is there for them.
"Veterans that just happen to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, you can't hold their lifestyle against them because they are veterans, and that is what this is about," President of Legion Riders Paul Cranfill said.
Brown said this is a chance not only for people to change their perception about gay veterans but also about the Legion.
"There are folks who I tell I hang out at the American Legion sometimes, and they look at me like I am out of my mind, and I am like no you haven't opened your mind," Brown said. "All kinds of people come here, but a lot of people think it is a bunch of old redneck veterans, and that is not what this is place is about."
Post members are excited to see where the event goes.
"I don't think any other legion group or the VFW has done anything like this," Cranfill said.
"Being a first commander at a post like this and being fairly new at it, it is exciting," Olsen said.
Olsen and Brown said the feedback has been positive so far.
"We haven't really had any problems," Olsen said. "A couple of people questioned why we are doing it and when we explained why then they were okay with it."
"By in large, it has been overwhelmingly positive," Brown said. "We had 4,000 likes and by 10 a.m. the Facebook page crashed."
The post is prepared for some negative feedback, though.
"We don't want any conflict, we are prepared for it and of course we are all veterans we are prepared for battle, but I don't think there will be anything like this," Cranfill said. "I hope there won't."
Brown said the post has only received one hate call so far, but he knows the post is supportive.
"You know it really speaks to your intelligence if you are going to call a place full of bikers, veterans and service people with a hate call," Brown said.
Post 114 hopes this can be a positive event to further membership.
"It opens doors for the younger generation," Cranfill said. "I have talked to a lot of young vets since this got started and invited them to come out."
Ultimately, the post wants to remind veterans that the Legion has their back.
"It ain't about anything but the veterans; I mean that is the whole thing in a nutshell," Cranfill said.
Commander Olsen said he hopes the event Tuesday turns out well and encourages people to come out.
"We are hoping everything turns out good, you know it is something new for us as well," he said. "We are hoping everything goes nice and smooth, and everyone has a good time."
Olsen said the event will include food, drinks, and games.
Brown said the idea was a surge of inspiration for him, but he decided to plan it on Tuesday because it is the anniversary of Christopher Street Liberation Day, which marks the start of the gay rights movement.
"It just seemed like the perfect time to do it," Brown said.
He hopes the event is perceived well by the public and that all veterans feel welcome and honored.
"We are not wanting to misrepresent ourselves, we are about our service men and women and our veterans and we are making it clear that we welcome, honor and thank all of them," Brown said. "It is about supporting those people who are American heroes."
Cranfill also said he wants all veterans to know what the American Legion is about and what they are here to do.
"This is the longest living veterans support group ever," Cranfill said. "It is about the veterans and giving them credit where credit is due."
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