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June 19, 2009

 

Street is a party for first Youngstown Pride festival

Organizers surprised by larger-than-expected turnout

Youngstown--Doubling the most generous pre-event estimates, the inaugural Youngstown Pride festival brought 1,000 people downtown for a day of entertainment, camaraderie and LGBT pride.

Anita Davis, one of the three main organizers of the event, laughed while recollecting what she and her co-organizers hoped.

“Carlos Rivera, one of the other organizers, said before the event that he would be happy if we had 50 people show up,” she recalled. “Kim Akins, the third organizer, though we would get a couple hundred. I thought we’d get about 500.”

“We were all pleased to have guessed wrong,” she said.

The June 6 festival, which took up a block of Phelps Street downtown, was a modest start to what will likely be a growing event.

A stage blocked the West Commerce entrance to Phelps, and entertainment ranging from drag kings and queens to youth performing slam poetry, bands, singers, and the Ms. Pride Youngstown competition kept the crowd entertained throughout the day.

Along Phelps Street’s two sidewalks, booths were lined up from organizations like Equality Ohio, People of All Colors Together-Youngstown and others, providing a familiar backdrop.

While the day was clear and hot, not all was sunny in Youngstown that day. The organizers are already learning from a few mistakes. Those were minor, and to be expected from the first Pride festival in the city.

“Doing the set-up at 10 am was not a good idea. It should have been much earlier,” said Davis. “We needed more volunteers and we needed to start earlier. We put out the call for volunteers, but we got only a couple.”

“We figured that most were waiting to see if we could get it off the ground,” she continued. “Some actually told us to our face they were waiting to see what we could do.”

The festival was the center of attention in the media as well, with the Vindicator newspaper and two local television stations doing stories on the event.

“The paper even announced the winner and runner-up of our Miss Gay Pride Youngstown pageant,” she noted. “Can you believe it? The paper running the winner of a drag queen pageant!”

She noted that Brittney Cheers won the competition, with Ruby Tuesday coming in second.

The crowd count is based on police estimates, and officers were present throughout the day in case of trouble, which never came. A single protester with a placard exhorting people to “Remember Sodom” slinked away, dejected, at around 3 pm.

A few local stores, restaurants and bars provided cool oases from the blazing sunlight, as well.

“The downtown events coordinator was really impressed with the turnout,” she said.

That turnout means next year, the event will get a larger venue, perhaps Federal Way or the Square.

Interestingly, two of the three organizers are Youngstown police officers who were not out at work. Davis said there has been practically no backlash from their very public coming-out.

“Carlos and I are both Youngstown police officers,” she said. “We weren’t out yet. Guess we are now. But at the police department, so far there’s been nothing negative.”

“Hey, our police chief, before the event, questioned why we didn’t use the Square instead of the side street,” she laughed. “I had to explain to him that we didn’t know if we would get the people to fill the Square.”

Next year, in addition to starting the set-up earlier, the organizers also want to see a wider variety of performers.

“Again, we’ve been contacted by quite a few local artists who were disappointed at not knowing of the event in advance,” Davis said. “We’ve been talked at adding a parade to the event. That’s a lot of work, but if people really show an interest and sign up to participate, there probably will be a parade.”

“It’s up to folks to make the commitment,” she said.

 


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