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Cleveland Pride at 21, & Stonewall at 40
Cleveland--“Forty years, God!” began the Rev. Don King, in the invocation opening the Cleveland Pride festival.
“The length of time it took your Israelite children to journey from the bonds of slavery to the freedom of the promised land,” continued King, the gay pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Cleveland Heights. “In that same length of time, you emboldened your children, the drag queens to stand up in the Stonewall bar and fight, when military might would have crashed down upon them.”
At 21 years, Cleveland Pride had a lot to celebrate--the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, marriage equality in a growing number of states, progress in Ohio, and the opening of Cleveland’s domestic partner registry.
Twelve of the 13 Cleveland city councilors who voted for the registry were honored as the parade’s grand marshals. Five of them, Joe Cimperman, Brian Cummins, Jay Westbrook, Matt Zone and the openly gay Joe Santiago, marched with a banner behind the Blazing River Freedom Band, joined by members of the Chicago Lakeside Pride band and Flower City Pride Band of Rochester, New York.
The 13 members of council split the cost of having the city health department booth at the festival where registry applications were distributed.
The band led off with “Hang on Sloopy,” followed by the “Gateway March” and “We Are Family,” rocking down Lakeside Avenue past City Hall where the Rainbow Pride flag flew all day.
Hundreds of spectators lined the route, some seated on lawn chairs. As the end of the parade passed, many of them joined in.
Waiting among the spectators was Pastor Bill Dunfee of Warsaw, Ohio, the national director of the anti-gay Minutemen United. For the fifth year in a row, he led 14 sign bearers in front of the Free Stamp on Lakeside, berating the marchers through a loudspeaker.
“We’re happy they’re in Cleveland,” Cimperman said. “We hope they spend lots of money here.”
As they reached Dunfee’s group, the band stopped, pivoted left, and serenaded the perennial demonstrators with “Jesus Loves Me.” The loudspeaker fell silent.
At the festival, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson walked through, greeting people as he has done every year except one since 2005.
A count made near the East 9th Street RTA station showed 2,091 people marched in the parade, up from 1,710 last year, but down from the record 3,022 in 2006.
Cleveland Pride president Todd Saporito said 10,100 people attended the all-day festival, according to a tally of the wrist bands worn by those inside. That made the festival slightly smaller than last year’s at nearly 13,000.
It was, however, drier. A gentle breeze off Lake Erie joined with sun for a pleasant day--instead of last year’s thunderstorm--as couples and groups gathered on the sloping Voinovich Park lawn to hear over a dozen performers on the main stage.
Most of the Pride festival-goers milled among 100 booths selling wares from food to Tshirts, and organizations recruiting members or handing out flyers. A sizeable crowd danced to another dozen acts at a second, high-energy performance stage near the end of the East 9th Street pier, fueled partly by a beer garden next to it.
A main stage rally featured community leaders and elected officials, including the Cleveland councilors from the parade, joined by openly lesbian Lakewood councilor Nickie Antonio.
Cimperman used his stage time to promote the next piece of human rights legislation city council will take up: adding gender identity and expression to the city’s non-discrimination ordinances, which already include sexual orientation. The change was introduced by Santiago. The two want to pass it before the year ends.
“Numbers count,” Cimperman said, “and we have work to do to protect our transgender community.”
“Pride has to translate into something,” Cimperman continued. “All of this is about undoing the sin the state of Ohio committed when it passed Issue 1,” the 2004 marriage ban amendment.
Ask Cleveland’s Lisa Hazerjian echoed Cimperman’s theme.
“Every one of our elected officials needs to hear from us,” she said.
Her group collected postcards urging the mayor and city council to pass the ordinance.
Hazerjian said the cards show support for the measure to undecided councilors, and lets ones who already support it know the community “has their backs.”
Saparito said Cleveland Pride will stick with the “Unity” theme for next year’s Pride celebration.
“We’re doing outreach to other groups and collaborations, including sharing office space and promoting events like Black Pride,” Saporito said.
Cleveland Black Pride will be celebrated August 6-9.
“We’re also looking to get more straight allies involved,” Saporito said.
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