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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 23, 2006

Pride comes of age

18th Cleveland event sets records,
forges new bonds

Cleveland--At age 18, we become responsible. We vote. We start working. The adult world is full of adventures. And we believe in heroes.

At age 18, Cleveland Pride broke all attendance records, cast away anything left of its adolescent awkwardness, and celebrated a community that is better organized and more influential than ever.

And while national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender publications like the Advocate are asking if Pride celebrations are still relevant, Cleveland Pride cultivated new relationships with non-LGBT allies and community leaders and strengthened LGBT community institutions.

And it happened because Cleveland Pride still believes in heroes.

Cleveland Pride president Keli Zehnder calls it �coincidence� that part of the upcoming Spiderman movie was filmed in Cleveland last month, that D.C. Comics finally realized that Batwoman is lesbian (Can Batman and Robin stay in their cave much longer?), that Superman�s cape and tights may be more than a fashion statement, or that Adam West headlined an unrelated affair at the Cleveland Convention Center as the parade passed the building with the actual Batmobile he drove in one of the movies.

�Because the political climate is such, we all live heroically by living as out gay people,� said Zehnder. �I know it sounds corny, but it�s easier to be out in 2006 than it was in the 1970s, thanks to the heroes before us.�

�The �Calling All Heroes� theme just fit,� said Zehnder.

A crowd of 3,022 paraded on Lakeside Avenue past the centers of city and county governmental power, then past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center to the festival on Lake Erie. This was a 29 percent increase over the previous record of 2,327 set last year. Earlier years saw parades of about 1,300 people.

On Mayor Frank Jackson�s order, the rainbow flag flew over Cleveland City Hall, as it had for a week.

Pride coordinator Brynna Fish estimated that 8,500 people attended the festival, based on the number counted through the gates. That topped last year�s record of 6,400 by a third.

Another record set was the number of elected officials and candidates marching in the parade and standing with the LGBT community at the rally immediately afterward. These included three gay and lesbian northeast Ohio city council members elected in 2005: Cleveland city council member Joe Santiago, Lakewood city council member Nickie Antonio, and Cleveland Heights city council member Mark Tumeo.

All three were marshals of the parade and rode in the Rocket Car, a silver Buck Rogers craft taken from a Euclid Beach amusement ride. A fourth marshal was the United Church of Christ�s �God is Still Speaking� campaign.

The parade was led by the Cleveland Lesbian, Gay, Allies Concert and Marching Band playing �If My Friends Could See Me Now,� and concluded by Cincinnati�s Queen City Rainbow Band.

In between were units representing LGBT affinity groups, community advocacy groups, political groups, families, children throwing candy, religious groups, AIDS service organizations and politicians.

Anti-gay demonstrators ticketed

The parade encountered a group of anti-gay demonstrators at the Free Stamp sculpture beside City Hall, and a second one when it turned the corner at East Ninth Street.

The Free Stamp group was 16 people with anti-gay and anti-choice signs, with the leader preaching through a public-address system. Three were young children. An unidentified demonstrator said they were all members of Catholic churches, organized by St. William Church in Euclid.

A church spokesperson later said the church had nothing to do with the demonstration.

As the parade began to pass, the Lesbian, Gay, Allies band stopped, faced the protesters and played for about a minute. Later, police positioned six cruisers on Lakeside Avenue between the demonstrators and the parade.

The Ninth Street group was four people with Love in Action and Exodus International, both �ex-gay� ministries.

Police issued citations to these demonstrators. According to police spokesperson Lt. Tom Stacho, Kevin R. Deegan of West Seneca, N.Y. was ticketed for using a sound amplifying device--a bullhorn--without a permit.

Deegan will answer the charge in Cleveland Municipal Court June 30. The minor misdemeanor carries a minimum fine of $75. Deegan threatened to sue the city.

�Our family values�

�I�m here because our family values dictate it,� said Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz, who was the event�s grand marshal.

She was one of several speakers on a small rally stage at the end of the parade, as marchers waited to get into the festival site. Because of the larger crowd and only four entrance gates, some waited up to an hour.

Fish said the delay stemmed from a new park configuration, and it will be resolved next year along with improving the web site�s pre-registration for special accessibility for people with disabilities.

Schultz, who is married to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, also spoke on his behalf.

�Our family values are the real issues of this election,� said Schultz. She noted the gay and lesbian people that are significant in their lives.

�Bring your family values to the polls in November, said Schultz.

Democratic state auditor candidate Barbara Sykes said, �Whether I�m discriminated against because of my color, or you because of your sexual orientation, it is equally painful and equally wrong.�

Joining them were Ohio Secretary of State candidate Jennifer Brunner, State Sen. Dale Miller, State Reps. Mike Skindell and Shirley Smith--who is a candidate for state senate--and state House candidates Barbara Boyd and Armond Budish.

U.S. Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Dennis Kucinich were represented by staff, as were gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and Richard Cordray, who is running for Ohio treasurer.

Local officials included Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty and judicial candidates Hollie Gallagher and Suzanne Blum; and Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis.

Cleveland City Council president Martin Sweeney welcomed Pride to Cleveland. He was joined by council members Kevin Kelley and Jay Westbrook, as well as Santiago, Tumeo and Antonio, and Brook Park council member Brian Mooney.

All are Democrats.

�We are painfully aware that we are a [non-profit], and are not allowed to take a political position,� said Fish, �but we are pleased to have so many politicians who are passionate about the issues we care about.� She also noted that there were more of them than ever before.

Fish said the committee purposely reached out to community organizations that are not LGBT-specific to be part of the festival, including the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, the county auditor and community service agencies, which meant more vendors than ever before.

�It�s all about building relationships,� said Fish, who also credited the strength of Equality Ohio and the Cleveland LGBT Center for overlapping with Pride�s ability to do that. �It�s synergistic energy.�

Between the Board of Elections and the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, more than 110 new voters were registered.

Pride saved her life

Performers on the main stage included comedians Dana Austin and Bruce Daniels, and singers Pamela Means, Candye Kane, Paul Lekakis and disco diva Thelma Houston.

Zehnder credits the success of the event to the growth of last year�s Pride, and to the effect that Ohio constitutional marriage ban amendment and proposed anti-adoption legislation have had on LGBT people and allies.

She added that among the 270 volunteers are a straight couple who met while volunteering for Pride three years ago, and who now celebrate their anniversary at the festival.

But nowhere is the hero theme more evident than in the personal story of Cleveland Pride board member Molly Grace McNeil.

McNeil, 58, credits Cleveland Pride 2003 with saving her life. She started volunteering, and was this year made a board member.

McNeil said until 2003, she had no gay friends and no gay people to talk to, until her friend in Massachusetts told her to go to Pride.

�I didn�t have any money, so the only way I could go was to volunteer,� said McNeil. �I was doing what I was meant to do, and everything changed.�

Today, the organist who attempted suicide in 1979 says she no longer takes anti-depressants, and she has her life back because she met a woman that day and began living her life openly as a lesbian.

�Something clicked in my head that day,� said McNeil.

Zehnder said the board knew the hero theme was right when it heard McNeil�s story.

McNeil called the day �a great event, a fun event.�

�Everyone has a story,� she said.

 

 

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