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Cleveland Pride cruises to a festive day
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland--The citys 19th lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride celebration was also its largest yet, said one of its top organizers.
More than 8,500 people came to Voinovich Bicentennial Park on June 16 to soak up the sun and entertainment, according to the gate count.
They also enjoyed a larger festival, with four stages and booths extending in a complete circuit around the park, located on a pier in Lake Erie.
Pride coordinator Brynna Fish said there were more vendors than any previous year, with 105 plus 14 more serving food. A larger beer garden featured a shady tent, and was so popular that it ran out of beer an hour before the festival ended at 8 pm.
Fish is pleased with the events new sponsors and how they came to be.
She said that Ford Motor Company approached the Pride committee about sponsorship in support of a lesbian Cleveland area employee. The retailers Target and Walgreens also approached the committee to become sponsors because of their openly gay employees.
There were also more non-LGBT people than ever before.
It was nice to see the number of heterosexual couples walking around, holding hands, celebrating with us, said Fish. And straight businesses are starting to see the power of our marketplace.
Fish also attributes the record attendance to a change in attitude since Ohios marriage ban amendment passed in 2004. Although 66 percent of voters supported the measure, it caused many people to consider issues of LGBT equality for the first time. That conversation has had positive results across the board, she said.
The momentum is building, said Fish.
The festival, with a cruise ship theme, followed a noon parade through downtown Cleveland from West Third and St. Clair. Marchers passed the county courthouse and Cleveland City Hall, where two rainbow flags are flying for the month in front of the entrance.
Led by the Blazing River Freedom Band, 2,473 people marched in the parade, making it the second largest in the events history after last years, which had 3,022. There were 59 groups in the parade, up from 44 last year.
Awards went to the groups with the best float or marching unit.
Best of Parade went to Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, who carried a giant rainbow flag. The Spirit of Pride Award went to the Blazing River band, and the Best Use of Theme Award went to the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland for a Gaywatch beach party float.
Linda Krascienko took honorable mention for her portrayal of a wandering monk, silently standing in a white robe and whiteface, carrying a cross and a rainbow flag. She countered the 24 anti-gay protesters who gathered near the Free Stamp sculpture beside City Hall, many of them pre-teenage children.
The protesters were affiliated with Operation Save America, formerly Operation Rescue, an unabashedly militant group that seeks to make biblical scripture the law of the land. Street preacher Scott Heldreth of Charlotte, North Carolina yelled at the Pride marchers through loudspeakers.
Heldreth, 34, spent 19 months in an Ohio jail awaiting trial on rape and kidnapping charges. He eventually pleaded guilty to sexual battery and served time on probation. He is also registered as a sex offender in Florida.
Three more street preachers could be heard at the parade stepoff. Police kept them separated from the marchers.
The Free Stamp group, led by Cleveland-area resident Tom Raddell with members of about a dozen local churches, taunted most of the parade units. They saved their most bitter insults for LGBT-affirming churches, whose Christianity they questioned.
A high point came when the Blazing River marching band stopped, gathered in front of the protesters, and silenced them by playing Jesus Loves Me.
Im thrilled that people think were such a threat that they come to talk about it, said Fish of the anti-gay groups.
At the festival, mainstage entertainment was provided by comedian Jason Stewart, and gay twins singing duo Jacob and Joshua Miller, singers Eric Himan, Doria Roberts, Rebel Girl, Lounge Kitty, and Will Davis, performance artists Lava and Double Dutch.
We really dont have a headliner act, said Fish. We try to get things that will appeal to everyone.
Between the main stage and the other three, more than 30 acts performed, also a record.
Fish said she saw a local Hillary Clinton campaign organizer scouting it out for next year. Democratic presidential candidate and Cleveland-area Rep. Dennis Kucinich had people campaigning at the event.
But the 2007 event was one of the least politically focused ever. Fewer candidates and office holders attended than in the past and the rally between the parade and the festival was shorter and featured fewer speeches.
Cleveland city council members Jay Westbrook, Joe Cimperman, Matt Zone, and Joe Santiago, Clevelands first openly gay official, presented a proclamation on behalf of the city.
Nickie Antonio, an openly lesbian member of Lakewoods city council, read her citys resolution and that of Cleveland Heights.
Look to the person next to you, said Antonio. We are the leaders we have been looking for.
Also celebrating with the crowd were state representatives Mike Foley, Mike Skindell, Barbara Boyd, Armond Budish, and Sandra Williams, all representing Cuyahoga County districts.
Williams, a freshman legislator, said the event reminder her not of how great Ohio is, but of how far we have to go to have everyone equal under the law.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Statehouse for the anti-LGBT Citizens for Community Values, said Budish. He noted that although their bill to restrict strip clubs passed the legislature earlier this year, it was watered down and caused some embarrassment to the organization.
They found out they cant run roughshod over the state anymore, Budish said.
Skindell urged everyone to sign postcards circulated by Equality Ohio supporting as measure to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the states employment and housing non-discrimination laws. The bill is set to be introduced in the Ohio House later this summer.
Equality Ohio wants to collect at least 100 cards from LGBT voters in each House district to be given to legislators.
Also joining the celebration were Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge Bridget McCafferty and Cleveland Municipal Court judge Marilyn Cassidy.
Cassidy, who was appointed to the bench in January by outgoing governor Robert Taft, is a Republican. All the other officials are Democrats.
Fish, who has coordinated a dozen earlier Pride festivals, said 225 shift volunteers and 88 crew members worked six to 16-hour shifts to make the event the success it was.
Next year, it will be the 20th year for Cleveland Pride and election year, Fish said.
You should see a bigger festival with
more political flavor and more participation
from straight allies, Fish said. She
added that another goal next year is to have
the LGBT entertainers do some community service
work while they are in town, to collaborate
with allied groups and have even more impact
on the community.