Thousands of locals in Phoenix lined the downtown streets on Sunday to celebrate gay pride—the first pride event since the state legalized gay marriage last October.
Queer immigrant activists also walked down the parade route to bring attention to another issue affecting the LGBT community: They’re hoping to connect people interested in marriage equality with immigration rights.
“The issues we all care about line up with the reasons that pride exists,” said Jonathan Beebe Giudice, who helped organized the queer immigrant contingent in the parade.
Some 70 immigrants rights activists marched down the parade with signs that read #FreeNicoll. The group is hoping to call attention to Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a transgender woman being held in a men’s immigration detention center in Arizona.
“People are excited to to have the freedom to marry and the Free Nicoll is an important campaign to bring to pride because people are there to be free and express themselves and that’s exactly what Nicoll needs,” said Giudice, who’s part of the Arcoíris Liberation Team, an Arizona group that works with LGBT immigrants held in detention.
He said his group was also joined by the Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project.
Hernández-Polanco presented herself to border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in October 2014 and immediately requested asylum. She’s been held in detention since.
“Gay pride was built around liberation and it’s important for us to continue that legacy of pride,” said Giudice in a phone interview Sunday.
The activists carried signs that included the #FreeNicoll hashtag and encouraged parade goers to go online and learn more about the campaign.
They also walked the parade route shouting chants like, “queer, trans and unashamed,” and “liberation not deportation.”
Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton also walked down the 1-mile parade route with the LGBT immigrant rights group.
“I’m here to show everyone that we’re here and we exist,” said Luis Cervantez, 27, who said he was held for three months at the same facility with Nicoll Hernández-Polanco.
“All of us marching today are people who are celebrating and I hope that we can channel that energy to help other people that are in detention,” Cervantez went on to say .