There are only a handful of thriving, open LGBTQIA+ districts in America, and even in the face of the state’s regressive legislation and reductive attacks on our queer community, Oklahoma City still has one of the best.
The 39th Street District (lovingly nicknamed “The Gayborhood”) has been going strong for decades, helping to establish Pride in OKC all the way back to the late-70s and demanding a level of respect and acknowledgement that arguably only comes with the kind of economic enclave that business owners have developed.
On the heels of this year's Pride celebrations and with a handful of recently added new businesses, 39th Street is going all out with monthly events and activities centered on the new Rainbow Crawls.
The next installment — a naturally Halloween-themed, district-wide block party — is set for Oct. 21.
"We really just want to celebrate the district and all that it is," said Sheila Harding, digital media handler for 39th Street District. "It's really about this community and the people who make it and giving them something to look forward to every month or every weekend."
The many vibrant, bustling bars that line the district are going to be open on a weekend evening already, so for Crawl nights, they're pulling out all the stops with themes, costumes and activities spread out all across the neighborhood.
"The bars and clubs will all be doing specialty drinks and we're always adding more vendors and street performers," she said. "We want to be really supporting those businesses and getting more people out to see them.”
It’s not all just about the bars. The whole district is set to come alive, with newcomers Point A Gallery presenting a slate of live music and their full collection of community-created artworks.
While the celebrations are all drinking and dancing, there's a more noble goal behind the night's festivities as well.
"One of the main things is that we're also having a food donation drive all night long for Other Options," Harding said.
Other Options and their Friends Food Pantry, headquartered at NW 50 and Portland Avenue, obviously doesn't fall into the 39th Street District, but by offering grocery help and social services to anyone experiencing food insecurity or living with HIV/AIDS, they've long been a safe haven and invaluable resource for the community.
"They're great allies and they're just super supportive," Harding said.
That kind of supportive and inclusive mentality is still at the heart of 39th Street's community, and remains the driving force behind all of the current and upcoming events dotting the district's calendar.
"This district is unified, and we're really ready to put ourselves on the map as a destination," she said. "As people are driving down Penn, they're really seeing that there's a gay district over here and these are all things that we've just been hoping and wishing for, and they're finally happening, and we couldn't be more excited."
Despite the political climate, despite culture wars and attacks from state officials, and despite attempts to divide and conquer the queer community, 39th Street is still out and still proud.
"We're just focused on building our community," Harding said. "In Oklahoma, it's really special that we have a community that's there with open arms to let anybody who's grown up in an environment where they were not welcomed know that here on 39th Street, you are welcome."
The Halloween-themed Rainbow Crawl kicks off at 6 p.m. Advance tickets are available at 39thstreetdistrict.com.