NORFOLK, Va. — The 35th annual PrideFest returned to Downtown Norfolk on Saturday; it's one of the biggest Pride events in Hampton Roads.

This year's theme is "breaking free," which has a special meaning to Nicholas Dintelmann.

“I came to PrideFest within two weeks of moving her by myself. I didn’t know anyone. I was so new, and I walked around here and I felt so comfortable and so loved,” Dintelmann said.

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Now, Dintelmann is the President of Hampton Roads Pride, organizing the festival for the past four years.

“We’re breaking free together,” he said.

The festival brought thousands to Town Point Park Saturday, including Hampton Roads-based drag performers Javon Love and Sage Angel.

"It's always nice to be able to give back and give a little performance on a big stage and, you know, support how much we love our community here," Angel said.

According to advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, this year’s festival comes at a time of increased proposed anti-LGBTQ+ bills. 

The organization issued a "State of Emergency" for LGBTQ+ Americans earlier this month, citing 500 proposed bills viewed as discriminatory against the community.

Additionally, a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ+ organization GLAAD shows there have been more than 350 incidents of harassment, vandalism or assault from June 2022 to April 2023.

The report says this coincides with an increase in rhetoric and legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.  

But that doesn’t discourage Dintelmann.

“We are a large community, many colors, many voices, many languages, who are saying enough is enough and today is that day,” he said.

In an effort to respect freedom of speech, Dintelmann said PrideFest always has a "designated protest area."

"We always have our protest area, as we value freedom of speech. But at the same time, we also are seeing a wonderful outpouring of support. Thousands are in [Town Point Park] right now to support the LGBTQ+ community," he said.

Love says this festival is a chance for the LGBTQ+ community to raise their voice and celebrate who they are.

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“Just see all of the community really show up and show out and understand that no matter what you’re loved,” Love said.