MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands gathered in Downtown Memphis Saturday for the Mid-South Pride Fest.
A sea of rainbow flags lined Beale Street Saturday afternoon as the pride parade kicked off.
Mid-South Pride Fest, which was held at Robert Church Park this year, has come a long way since Macc Onner started attending.
"Oh it's grown dramatically," said Onner. "When I first started coming out, it was at Peabody Park over in Midtown and the parade was down Cooper and now it's turned into more than 20,000 people."
Organizers expect this year's crowd to total between 25 and 30,000 -- another record.
"We create a safe space to let people be who they are," said Mid-South Pride organizer Vanessa Rodley.
Large crowds aren't the only thing to celebrate this year.
Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, LGBT candidates are becoming more visible in politics.
Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay major candidate to run for president and for the first time two openly gay men are running for the Memphis city council.
"It means a lot for the queer community to see representation out there," said Onner. "I'm from a small town in Mississippi, so I never really saw this happening and it's beautiful."
But challenges remain.
The Human Rights Campaign says at least 18 transgender people have been violently killed across the country this year.
Studies show more than 1.6 million LGBTQ youth are homeless.
Many states, including Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, have no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment and housing.
Despite those grim statistics, there's no denying the progress.
"Everybody is starting to get the idea that it's truly okay to love everybody and treat everybody normal," said Rodley.
The Mid-South Pride Fest continues Sunday with a Brunch Crawl at Overton Square at 11 a.m.