The self-described straight “country boy” whose rainbow pickup truck went viral on social media, joined Oklahoma City’s first official Pride march Sunday.
Cody Barlow, 28, first debuted his decorated tailgate earlier this month with a sign that read, “Not all country boys are bigots. Happy Pride Month.”
“I wanted to share a message of support, particularly for the younger generation of LGBTQ people who are dealing with a lot and who are isolated with nowhere to turn,” Barlow told NBC News. “For those suffering to the point where they may be considering taking their own lives, I wanted to show that not all of us are like that, that we judge people on their characters, not based on who they love.”
Barlow said that while he hoped to bring about positive change, he didn’t expect his truck to inspire far-reaching responses.
“I thought maybe my family and friends would share it. I didn’t think it would be the county, let alone the state or the country,” said Barlow, who hails from Wagoner, Oklahoma, a small rural town with a population of less than 9,000 people.
Yet at Oklahoma City Pride, Barlow spent almost 11 hours taking pictures and signing autographs with those who appreciated his visible support for the LGBTQ community.
“Oklahoma City Pride is the biggest Pride in state. People come from every rural town to celebrate,” said Lauren Zuniga, the president of the Oklahoma City Pride Alliance, which organized the official event. “Cody’s truck made ‘baby gays’ feel at home. Having a visible ally like him can change the trajectory of a young person’s life.”
This year marks the first official Oklahoma City Pride. Technically there have been marches and celebrations in the area stemming back to 1987, but prior to this year, such celebrations were either hidden or not officially recognized by the local government, according to Zuniga.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt recently declared the week of June 17 the first-ever LGBTQ “Pride Week” in the city’s history.
“Today is a day to reaffirm our city’s commitment that all people are welcome in Oklahoma City and all people in Oklahoma City are loved,” Holt wrote.
Zuniga said that the introduction of Pride Week boosted morale among attendees and had an impact on turnout.
“It makes such a huge difference to have the support of Mayor Holt and the local government,” Zuniga said. “There was a record number of people who attended Pride, around 120,000 people, compared to the 85,000 who’ve attended in past years.”
She also noted that Holt’s recognition of the event takes on increased significance when considering the state’s lack of LGBTQ protections.
There are currently no “comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in Oklahoma,” according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan organization that advocates for federal and state LGBTQ protections.
Last year, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, signed legislation that LGBTQ advocacy groups said gives adoption agencies a license to discriminate against LGBTQ couples on religious grounds.
“We’re so resilient in Oklahoma City,” Zuniga said. “There’s so many storms we’ve had to weather, and LGBTQ folks are especially tough.”
This year’s Oklahoma City Pride theme was “Legends and Rebels,” and though the legacy of the Stonewall uprising is on many people’s minds, Zuniga said the event is a way to celebrate local LGBTQ history.
Oklahoma City gay bar Angles was raided by police more than a decade after New York City’s Stonewall uprising, which is widely credited with fueling the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement. To commemorate Angles’ history, a number of events during the city’s Pride Week were hosted at the night club.
As for Barlow, he said Oklahoma City Pride is not the last stop on his list. He plans to drive his truck to other municipalities in the state, as well as in neighboring Arkansas.