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July 4, 2008

Even with rain, Columbus Pride gets hotter

Columbus--After many years of sunny, if scorching, weather, it finally rained on the Columbus Pride parade.

The wet weather notwithstanding, Pride just gets hotter and hotter each year, breaking records each successive year in terms of visibility and attendance. The 27th Pride holiday--put on by Stonewall Columbus since 1982--was a lively celebration lasting a week, with other activities all month long.

The parade lineup began at 12 noon June 28 on Dennison Avenue on the west side of Goodale Park, along with the crowds of the annual Community Festival at the same time in the eastern part of the park.

As the floats and crowd were assembling, local activists, politicians and LGBT luminaries addressed the crowd about the state of LGBT equality in Columbus, around Ohio and at the national level. A large number of politicians came out to support Pride and seek LGBT endorsements.

The parade included familiar activist groups like P-FLAG, Stonewall Columbus, HRC, Equality Ohio, BRAVO, the Knox County Gay Straight Alliance and Kaleidoscope Youth Coalition alongside many bars and clubs like Wall Street and Q Bar.

Groups from cities across Ohio were also represented in the parade, including Newark, Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton. Several groups from neighboring Indiana were also in the parade.

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 downtown.

The parade marched on High Street through the Short North district, past the convention center and the Ohio Statehouse before winding up its route through downtown on High Street. The route was packed with watchers and supporters all the way.

This year the usual protesters and religious zealots showed up, but were consistently drowned out by the cheering crowds. The heavy Stonewall security as well as the presence of local police made sure that things were exceptionally peaceful this year.

Some of the religious picketers tried something deceptive, wearing fluorescent green T-shirts similar to Stonewall volunteers, with the word “Security” printed on the back and "Little Lambs Protection Agency" on the front.

But the religious protestors were overwhelmingly outnumbered by religious groups marching in the parade. While the numbers of protesters dwindled this year, the throngs of LGBT people of faith and their religious allies have multiplied from previous years.

“It was incredible how many people of our faith community came out to support us,” Columbus City Councilor Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessy told the audience at the festival.

“Over half of the marchers and floats in the parade,” she continued, “were faith-based.”

O’Shaughnessy was one of the parade judges this year.

“This was a truly incredible parade,” she told the Gay People’s Chronicle. “The turnout was phenomenal. At first I was worried about the weather, but it turned out great. The diversity and the creativity was just phenomenal.”

The Most Creative Float award went to the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus. Most Outrageous was awarded to Exile Niteclub, Most Inclusive was the Girth and Mirth organization’s, Best Contingent was given to the United Way with King Avenue Methodist Church coming in a close second, and Best Float went to Wall Street Niteclub with the “Would Jesus Discriminate?” float being given an honorable mention.

The main stage entertainment included performances by the Flaggots, the Capital City Pride Band, the Columbus Gay Men’s and Columbus Women’s Choruses, along with other local entertainers.

In addition, one of last year’s favorites, the hot local queer band the Fabulous Johnson Brothers also performed.

As in past years, the festival offered HIV tests in addition to more aggressive education about safer sex and STD prevention. Also returning this year was a family area where children of LGBT families could play and be kept safe in the very large crowds.

But shortly after 4 pm, a line of thunderstorms moved in, ending the festival with an hour of rain. Unlike at Cleveland Pride a week earlier, there were no high winds.

Festival is a week earlier next year

Stonewall executive director Karla Rothan said that a crowd of over 120,000 was expected at the festival and early estimates were that the goal had been met. Parade participants were slightly down to 4,813 this year, possibly due to the threat of rain.

The estimated cost of putting on this year’s parade and festival was approximately $85,000. That does not included thousands of hours volunteers contribute. A bulk of the cost goes towards paying the Columbus Police Department to provide security and to set up facilities like the vendor tents and 65 portable toilets.

This year’s headline entertainers like original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holiday are also paid to perform.

According to Rothan, this year’s Pride grossed about $100,000.

She said that the biggest challenges in putting on Pride this year was working with the Main Street bridge construction near Bicentennial Park.

“The city was very good to us,” Rothan said, “in helping us work with the structural issues and moving people around in this area.”

“Parks and Rec were phenomenal in making it all happen this year,” she continued.

This year, like in the past, Stonewall Columbus urged people at the festival to donate $5 at the several entrances to the area.

“We’ve had some controversy this year from the community,” Rothan explained, “over people having to pay to get into the festival.”

“We have become much more organized this year in trying to collect the money,” she added, “but we need to let the people know that this is not some big money grab on our part.”

“Everything costs money. Besides, we do allow people in if they cannot afford to pay. If people can pay less or more it’s all great,” she said.

Pride contributes a significant part of Stonewall Columbus’ annual budget of $465,000, which pays for all their programming, events and two full-time and three part-time staffers.

Rothan said that next year’s Columbus Pride Parade and Festival will be held a week earlier, on June 20. Bicentennial Park will be closed for two years to be renovated as part of the Scioto Mile riverfront development. So, Pride will be held at Goodale Park a week earlier, to avoid conflict with ComFest.

The route for next year’s parade is yet to be determined.



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