Cleveland--A record-breaking number of marchers in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Cleveland Pride parade initiated a new route, led by a recently discharged gay Army Purple Heart recipient.
A total of 2,327 people marched, breaking the old record set in 1999 by more than a thousand.
Leading the parade was a giant United States flag carried by the Northeast Ohio American Veterans for Equal Rights and their newest member, Sgt. Robert Stout of Newark, Ohio, who returned home May 31 after a tour in Iraq where he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Stout, the first Ohioan awarded the medal in the current Iraq war, was discharged for being gay.
The grand marshals of the 17th annual festivities illustrated longevity and dedication to the LGBT community, including Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center board chair Thom Rankin, attorney Randi Barnabee, People of All Colors Together-Cleveland and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays-Cleveland, celebrating their 25th and 20th anniversaries, respectively.
Three of the four candidates for Cleveland mayor marched in the parade, incumbent Jane Campbell, city council president Frank Jackson, and municipal judge Robert Triozzi, all Democrats.
Speaking to the rally, Campbell said, �We have to stop the conversation of who is beloved and who is not.�
The mayor�s comments were a direct rebuke of assertions by radical religious anti-gay groups that LGBT people are not among those loved by God.
The march was swelled by congregations from affirming churches, including 130 marchers from Pilgrim United Church of Christ, making it the largest contingent. Pilgrim marchers wore sequential numbers, like runners in a race.
Several other UCC congregations were also present, joined by the Unitarian Universalists and Chevrei Tikva, a mostly LGBT Reform Jewish congregation.
Thirty-three clergy members representing Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Reform Jewish, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and non-denominational congregations in the greater Cleveland area fired a salvo into the camps of those who attempt to gain politically by twisting anti-gay rhetoric into �morality.�
They presented a Moral Manifesto with 13 points, including the declaration that all committed relationships are moral, and that it is immoral to live in a society more obsessed with sex than it is with abolishing hunger, poverty, and homelessness.
In the festival itself, held once again at Voinovich Park off the East 9th Street pier on Lake Erie, new records were set with the addition of two more rows of booths and a total of 120 vendors, over a dozen more than last year.
�We had nearly every single vendor from last year come back,� said assistant coordinator Brian Thornton. �Cleveland Pride has never had a year when we were smaller than the previous year.�
According to Thornton, one food vendor had attended the festival as a spectator last year, and was so impressed that she got four of her friends to sign on as vendors as well.
Over 6,400 numbered wristbands were given out at the festival entrance gates, said Pride board president Keli Zehnder, but many people entered without taking the bands.
�It�s the best count we�ve had in a long time as far as accuracy goes, Zehnder said, estimating final attendance at 6,500.
�We�re absolutely thrilled with everything and we hope the community enjoyed it as much as we did,� Zehnder continued. �I was so proud. Our community felt so well-represented from all walks of our lives.�
�People want to be a part of Cleveland Pride but don�t always know how and when and where,� Thornton said, brushing aside theories that a new parade route was responsible for the larger participation in the parade, �and when we educate them on that, they get very excited.�
One of the central points of any Pride festival is the entertainment, and this year�s installment of Cleveland Pride was no exception.
Following through with the �Greatest Pride on Earth� circus theme, three stages of entertainment kept the crowds going throughout the day. At the �big top� main stage, Wise Fool New Mexico presented aerobatic feats in between performances by Robbing Mary, Tamaras, Sacha Sacket, Disappear Fear and headliners Kimberley Locke and Jane Siberry.
The �side show� acoustic stage featured performances by the North Coast Men�s Chorus, Church House Rock, Eric Himan, Slack Jaw, Mr. and Mrs. Black Gay Ohio, the Cleveland City Country Dancers and the Rainbow Wranglers.
DJs Jerry Szoka and Low Key provided dance music in the �fun house,� the DJ stage.
�There were 80 best parts, but the best of the best parts was the day after, getting e-mails from volunteers thanking us for the opportunity, and artists saying that they had performed at London Pride, at Los Angeles Pride, all of the Prides, and this was the most professionally they had been treated,� said Pride coordinator Brynna Fish.
�It is an amazingly awesome experience to see the work of many dozens of committee members, board members and volunteers come together like this,� she noted. �It really was the Greatest Pride on Earth.�
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