By Timothy Rawles, May 2020 Issue.
Just because Phoenix Pride has been postponed until November doesn’t mean the community is going to let the glitter settle. The event has been rescheduled for Nov. 7-8 to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus, but its ambassadors are rising above the pandemic to prove yet again nothing can keep the community down.
Owen Parker and Tyra Marie are Mister and Miss Phoenix Pride 2020, respectively. They will represent not only the annual celebration, but the entire community. This year might be the most difficult one in recent memory, but both are up for the job, they have overcome personal obstacles themselves, so they know the importance of placing a light at the end of the tunnel.
Tyra identifies as gay and is originally from Lake Havasu City, Arizona. When in drag he prefers the pronoun “she” so we will respect that in this article since this persona is how she will represent Miss Pride Phoenix.
Mister Pride Phoenix, Owen, is originally from Fort Myers, Florida, but grew up in Williams, Arizona, a small historic town just west of Flagstaff. The town is probably best known for tourism, especially the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel.
This Pride couple have known each other for about three years, and both have a deep sense of community which comes in handy during this restrictive time of shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders. The challenge is unlike anything they have had to endure, but they are no strangers to giving of themselves in order to help others.
Tyra has worn many crowns. She is a former Miss Gay Phoenix America, Miss Gay Arizona America, Arizona Entertainer of the Year and Empress XIII of the Imperial Court of Arizona. She is also an Arizona State University graduate.
“During my reign as Miss Gay Arizona America 2013 I raised over $8,000 and as Empress XIII of the Imperial Court of Arizona I helped raise over $62,000 for various non-profit organizations throughout the state,” she explains. “In 2019, I created the Tyra Marie Hispanic Scholarship Fund that awards scholarships to students of Hispanic descent who demonstrate a strong academic record, financial need and that are planning to pursue their undergraduate or graduate degree at an accredited U.S. college or university.”
Coming from a religious Hispanic family, Tyra says there was never any talk about sexuality in the house. The topic was ignored, considered taboo, so she did what most closeted men and women do, she hid her feelings to keep the peace.
“I was bullied throughout elementary school and once I got into high school, I was lucky to have the protection of my cousins,” she recalls. “They would get into fights with anyone that would say anything to me. This is where my parents finally started to realize that I was different.”
After being constantly tormented in school, it was her mother who became an inspiration and said to defend herself and report the persecutors. “She also encouraged me to be better than my bullies and show them I would always be the bigger person. I did just like my mother encouraged and in 2001, I graduated top of my class and got accepted to Arizona State University.”
Owen also comes from a religious family, but his story is completely different than that of Tyra’s. He came out in his mid-twenties and in doing so his life changed forever.
“I was actively involved in church and went to bible college before coming out,” Owen says, “There were a lot of hard times of dealing with self-doubt and the internal struggle of letting others down.” He says coming out cost him lots of friends and family. “Everything I knew got flipped upside down. However, just like a Phoenix, I rose from the ashes and will continue to do just that throughout my life. That is one of my favorite analogies in life as we all go through several Phoenix moments throughout our lives, just like the current situation we are in with the coronavirus.”
Sadly, Owen does not have a relationship with his parents anymore and has lived on his own since he was a teenager.
Fortunately, the LGBTQ community is often a stand-in for men and women who have been ostracized from their blood relations. For Owen, becoming Mr. Phoenix Pride brings with it a sense of family that he wouldn’t otherwise have. He says the community put in a lot of hard work to make him Mr. Phoenix Pride and he is both humbled and enthusiastic.
“It also brings me great joy and excitement that I get to reign through such a time as this, where everything is different and nothing is the same. It requires reigning in a new and creative way. I have always considered myself a uniquely creative out-of-the-box thinker. This time requires that more than ever.”
His sentiments are shared by Tyra, who says being crowned is a dream she’s worked hard for and she carries with the utmost reverence. “I wanted to follow the footsteps of formers for whom I have lot of respect and admiration. I have always been a community ambassador and I know being crowned Miss Phoenix Pride puts me in a position to continue to help our community.”
Being told to stay at home and away from the public goes against what the LGBT community stands for. Both Tyra and Owen are following those orders but remain united in finding ways to ease the panic of isolation to their allies.
Earlier this month they participated in an online virtual Pride which featured live drag performances, DJ sets and community discussions.
Both of them are lucky enough to be employed by companies that allow them to operate remotely. Owen works in digital media and e-commerce marketing. He says he and his roommate had a health scare last month.
“Myself and my roommate were actually sick with all the symptoms (of coronavirus) for several days. However, we have both tested negative for COVID-19 and are well into our recovery now.”
In their personal time, Tyra and Owen enjoy exercise and the outdoors. Tyra works on her gowns and goes for long walks with her dogs while Owen says he keeps up a steady workout routine.
As for this year’s Pride festival, they say it’s going to be like no other in the city’s history. Not only will it be a milestone celebrating 40 years, but it will also be an example, maybe even a template, on just how the community will come together after this global crisis ends.
“This pride will be memorable in so many ways,” says Tyra. “We will be coming off a dark time in our history so it will be a time to reunite and celebrate humanity.”
Owen agrees. He adds that this year the entertainment and events will still bring out the crowds, but the power of unity, love and freedom will take centerstage just like history has done before in times of uncertainty.
“In many ways I think it may feel like some of the original festivals; just our queer community coming together to be queer out loud in public,” Owen says. “I cannot wait to see love embraced and joy overwhelm our community all at the festival in November. Just talking about it brings the biggest smile to my face.”