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Cleveland--“Never wake up on any day thinking you deserve anything less than justice,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty from the Cleveland Pride main stage.
Working for justice was a big part of the June 21 parade and festival, as was building community and looking back on 20 years of Cleveland Pride events.
Oh yes, there was also a storm that blew in off Lake Erie shortly after 5 pm, halting the festival for only the second time in its history.
But as is usually the case during presidential election years, the event, which is itself a political statement, became an opportunity to motivate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and its allies to get involved.
The parade was led by grand marshal Brynna Fish on the back of a motorcycle driven by Elliott Hooper.
Fish has been the coordinator of Cleveland Pride since 1994, the year it moved from its location at West 29th and Detroit to Public Square. Before then, she coordinated the festival’s entertainment.
Changes in the Cleveland Pride bard last fall have fueled speculation that Fish’s contract will not be renewed. The new president and two new board members own an event management company.
“It’s not my intention to retire,” Fish said, “but I may not have a choice. I have been promised that is not the case. I want them to renew me.”
But her honor this year gave Fish an opportunity to do something she has never done before--see the parade.
“Oh my God, I loved being in the parade,” Fish said. “I would be grand marshal every year.”
“I always thought no one watched the parade,” Fish said, adding that to her surprise, people filled Lakeside Avenue in front of City Hall, and many set up chairs along East Ninth Street in order to get a good seat. The area between the Shoreway and the entrance to Voinovich Park was filled with spectators.
A count made near the East 9th Street RTA station showed 1,710 people marched in the parade, with another 50 spectators joining after the final police car. The 2006 parade holds the Cleveland size record at 3,022, including 1,000 spectators at the end.
Still, Fish marveled that the front of the parade reached the park before the last units stepped off.
Parade units included three giant flags. The rainbow pride colors were presented by Pilgrim United Church of Christ. New Age in Leather carried the leather pride banner. The Human Rights Campaign carried its giant logo, followed by the Radical Queers carrying signs protesting HRC taking money from oil companies Chevron and Shell.
The two firms operate in Nigeria where oil money props up the political activity of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, who is fiercely anti-LGBT and uses his position to oppress gays and lesbians.
The University Circle Pride Unit featured a pair of horses ridden by Wendy Pengel and Susan Mickovich.
Jennifer Dietsch of Bowling Green University did the parade on rollerblades as Super Queer, the gender ambiguous gay super hero.
Many political figures had representatives in the parade. Lynn McLaughlin Murray, a Democrat running for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, appeared riding in a 1966 VW Beetle convertible.
‘Bless our sexuality’
A dozen area churches marched the parade with a LGBT-affirming messages.
They were met by taunts from two small groups of anti-gay demonstrators.
This year, Pastor Bill Dunfee of Warsaw, Ohio, the national director of the anti-gay Minutemen United, led a total of 16 sign bearers in front of the Free Stamp on Lakeside. Some were affiliated with Operation Save America, formerly Operation Rescue, an unabashedly militant group that seeks to make biblical scripture the law of the land.
The Minute Men website says they will be handing out water bottles and “sharing the Gospel with those trapped in homosexuality” at Columbus Pride on June 28.
A group of six others from New York and Celina, Ohio, gathered on East Ninth Street.
For the second year, Linda Krascienko portrayed a wandering monk, silently standing in front of the anti-gays in a white robe and whiteface, carrying a cross and a rainbow flag. She was joined by others bearing LGBT-affirming signs.
The Blazing River Freedom Band stopped and turned to face the protesters, and silenced them by playing “Jesus Loves Me.”
Openly gay Rev. Don King led the event’s opening prayer.
“Bless our country. Bless our pride, and bless our sexuality,” King said.
Elected officials that addressed the festival from the main stage were McCafferty, State Rep. Mike Skindell and openly lesbian city councilor Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland.
“Thank you for your authenticity, your courage, your integrity, and your love,” said Kucinich.
Skindell said that for every call or email he gets urging him to vote for the LGBT Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act, he gets ten more against it, telling the audience that needs to change.
Antonio urged support for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
“I have a confession,” Antonio said. “Like many of you, I supported Hillary Clinton for president.”
“Hillary Clinton taught us what is possible for women and we should never forget that,” Antonio continued, “But I got a new candidate now--Barack Obama.”
Antonio appealed to Clinton supporters to move their support to Obama.
“We have to be the change we want to see,” Antonio concluded.
20 years of Pride festivals
While not on the stage, Cleveland City Councilor Jay Westbrook, who was instrumental in setting up the original Cleveland Pride events, greeted people at the gate, and helped count the number of attendees.
Members of the original Cleveland Pride committee from 1989, Martha Pontoni, Drew Carey, Dave Volk, Brian DeWitt and Doug Braun were recognized on the stage.
The AIDS Task Force was honored for having the best parade float.
Cleveland Pride firsts included the first transgender artists on the main stage and the first use of the dance stage as a performance area featuring drag and fetish artists.
Baldwin Wallace English major Nick Meloro and his friends created one of the most popular activities of the festival, the Pride Family Tree.
“We were looking for an image to represent generations of LGBT people,” Meloro said. “The tree is growing to the past and growing to the future.”
Meloro said the tree had 273 hand-written messages on tiles which will be archived at the Western Reserve Historical Society for another 20 years.
Meloro said the tiles included a marriage proposal, memories of deceased loved ones, and wishes.
“Mom and Dad, I wish you could see past your religion to see me,” read one anonymous leaf.
“It’s 2008. I’m a proud grandmother at Pride with my gay granddaughter,” read another.
Fish estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 attended the festival, making it the biggest ever.
According to Fish, the ability to get a more exact count was compromised by the late-afternoon storm.
Fish noted that fewer public officials came than in the past. The Ohio Democratic Party held its annual state dinner in Columbus the same day, preventing many who usually attend Pride from coming.
“Someone at ODP should have looked at the calendar,” Fish said.
“They shouldn’t schedule events that keep them away from Pride. They want our vote. We pay our taxes. But they only come when it’s convenient for them,” Fish said.
About ten minutes after 5 pm, a storm rolled in, shutting the festival down. A scream was heard going west to east across the park as gale-force winds moved across it, followed by rain. Many people fled toward the entrance gates on the East Ninth St. pier.
Vendor canopies were torn apart and tossed into each other. Tables and chairs at the food area blew away, and the sky was briefly filled with pamphlets and fliers. The National Weather Service at Burke Lakefront Airport, a half-mile from the festival, recorded winds of 47 mph. Marine warnings went out over the lake. People scrambled for cover. Power was turned off.
“There’s no question the weather kept the number of people down,” Fish said.
Fish said the event is insured if there is half an inch of rainfall.