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Business and faith groups swell the Pride Holiday
Columbus--Corporate floats and the war in Iraq made interesting appearances in the Columbus Pride parade on June 23, adding a counterpoint to go-go boys and dykes on bikes.
Despite cooler temperatures than in recent years, Columbus Pride just gets hotter and hotter, especially in visibility and attendance. The 26th Pride Holiday parade--put on by Stonewall Columbus since 1982--was a lively celebration lasting four days with other activities all month long.
According to Stonewall executive director Karla Rothan, a crowd of over 110,000 was expected for the festival and early estimates were that the goal had been surpassed. (For comparison, Ohio State University’s football stadium holds about 100,000.) Rothan said that her dreams for this year’s Pride included “no incidents or accidents and no rain.” By all accounts at the end of the day, all her dreams had come true.
The parade included activist groups like P-FLAG, Stonewall Columbus, the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Ohio, BRAVO, the Bexley High School Gay Straight Alliance and Kaleidoscope Youth Coalition alongside bars and clubs like Wall Street, Q Bar, Pyramid and Somewhere Else.
Groups and bars from other cities across Ohio were also represented in the parade, including Newark, Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Youngstown and Dayton, joined by Mr. West Virginia Pride and bands from Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Michigan.
Additionally, there was a greater corporate presence than in the past, with Sears, Starbucks, PepsiCo, Chase Bank, U.S. Cargo and the United Way sponsoring floats in the parade.
The Iraq war was featured in a few of the floats this year, taking the discourse of Pride beyond issues of LGBT equality. There was a decidedly political take on a larger scale in many of the themes seen at this year's pride parade.
As the parade floats and crowd were assembling at Goodale Park, activists spoke from a small stage about the state of LGBT equality in Columbus, around the state and at the national level. The speeches were preceded by an ecumenical service.
Lynn Bowman of Equality Ohio urged the gathering crowd to get active for the 2008 elections, and noted that it is still legal to be fired for being gay or lesbian. The group’s volunteers asked people to fill out large purple cards to be sent to Ohio legislators saying that the public supports a statewide law protecting against LGBT discrimination.
“We only want people to be discriminated against based on ability,” Bowman said.
Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy spoke most eloquently about the role of LGBT soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Citing cases where Arabic language specialists were dismissed for being gay, Kilroy said that this sort of discrimination only hurts soldiers in the field and needs to be stopped.
Many local politicians and hopefuls also turned out to address the crowds and garner support for their upcoming electoral bids.
The march set off from Goodale Park at 1 p.m. and it took a little under two hours for the entire parade to conclude at Bicentennial Park in downtown Columbus.
Marchers, numbering 5,152, down slightly from last year’s 5,620, passed through the Short North district in Columbus where High Street sidewalks were filled with spectators, many from the nearby ComFest. More spectators greeted marchers downtown, and as the parade passed the Ohio Statehouse.
Fewer protesters and religious zealots were seen than in past years. About five older men stood at the City Center mall but were consistently drowned out by the cheering crowds. The heavy Stonewall security as well as the police presence made sure that things stayed peaceful.
An airplane circled overhead during the parade, towing a banner for a religious “ex-gay” website.
The religious protestors were outnumbered by faith groups and marchers in the parade. It seemed more LGBT people of faith and their religious allies were in the parade than last year.
Another factor working against the religious protesters was their choice of Tshirt color: fluorescent green, almost identical to the shirts worn by Pride volunteers. One would imagine they spent much of their time being asked where the porta-potties were.
The main stage entertainment included performances by Flaggots Ohio, the Capital City Pride Band, and other entertainers. The headliner group was Expose. In addition, one of last year’s favorites, Eric Himan was back along with a hot local queer band, the Fabulous Johnson Brothers.
One of the most popular main stage entertainers were the Aerial Angels of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The street performers group opened the entertainment at the festival with their fire-eating and aerial acrobatics on a silk trapeze. Their zany humor and sexually-suggestive antics were very well-received.
As in past years, HIV tests were offered in addition to more aggressive education about safer sex and STD prevention. Also back was a family area where children of LGBT families could play and be kept safe apart from the pressing crowds.
At the entrances to the festival, Stonewall Columbus urged guests to contribute $5. In addition to raising funds for the organization, this helped defray the costs of putting on the event.
This was estimated at $80,000, not including the thousands of hours that volunteers contribute. Much the cost goes towards paying the Columbus Police Department to provide security, to set up vendor tents and portable toilets, and pay entertainers.
After the parade, at the main stage in Bicentennial Park, Rothan said that this Pride was really important for her in the new position at the helm of Stonewall Columbus.
“I want Columbus to see how diverse the LGBT community has become,” she said.
Rothan said that Columbus’ Pride festivities could compare to any in even larger cities like Chicago. “We bring in a headliner with a national name like Exposé,” she said, “and even Chicago doesn’t do things like that.”
Rothan says that she is “thrilled” to be in her new job and that she “couldn’t be happier.” She is also happy that Stonewall Columbus is financially sound now but will continue to need more and more funds as it grows within an ever enlarging LGBT community.
Her biggest challenge will be next year’s Pride given that each successive one has grown. Bicentennial Park was affected by the Main Street bridge reconstruction and with next year’s anticipated overhaul of the area, Stonewall may have to look for an alternative location for Pride and possibly a different date.
“We will need to have some strategic planning meeting especially with Columbus Parks and Recreation,” she said, to figure out what Pride 2008 will look like.
Angie Wellman, executive director of the Kaleidoscope Youth Coalition, was thrilled with her organization’s turn out this year.
“We had over sixty youth march,” she said, along with other supportive allies and adults. Their theme this year was “Be You--Be True, Be Real, Be Proud.” With Kaleidoscope’s move last year to High Street across from the Ohio State University campus, more and more young people have come to their center. The location also has better access by bus. Wellman said the center now averages 260 visits a month.
“For so many of the youth,” Wellman said, “this is the first time during Pride that they can look around and there are thousands and thousands of people who look just like them.”
“For a lot of our rural youth their only exposure to LGBT adults is at the center, so here at Pride they get to see so many more adult role models which is great for them,” she continued. “A lot of them commented to me about how freeing it is to be here with their girlfriends or boyfriends and not to have to watch their backs. How nice, they have said to me, it is not to be in the minority.”
Gloria McCauley, head of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, echoed Wellman’s sentiments.
“Pride is like a birthday or a New Year’s celebration,” she said. “You have wishes and dreams and new starts on those days and today too I have new dreams and hope for a new start where I know that things are going to get better for us.”
“If you look at gay pride over that last forty years, it is getting better,” she said.