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July 18 , 2010

Cincinnati Pride grows with move to downtown on Fourth of July weekend

Cincinnati--A move out of June and out of Northside brought criticism for Cincinnati Pride, but also brought thousands of people out for the Fourth of July weekend.

Equinox: Cincinnati Pride moved downtown for the first time since its early years, and its new organizers, the Gay Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cincinnati, shifted it to the Independence Day weekend to avoid conflicting with other area Pride festivals.

Those moves, while controversial, paid off for the city, according to Equinox chair and chamber vice-president George Crawford.

�Aerial shots of the square, between the square and what was out in the streets, we had about 22,000 total,� Crawford said. �Several of the bars told me it was the busiest weekend they had in five or six years.�

He estimated the total attendance along the course of the festival and its events at over 26,000.

While the city has a long history of a multiple-day Pride festival, this year�s event kicked off with a happy hour and pub crawl on Friday, followed by a family fun zone in Fountain Square during the day on Saturday. Saturday evening saw parties for various populations of the LGBT community, including the Equinox Ball at the Duke Energy Center featuring DJ Escape and Kristine W, a luau cookout, bear and women�s parties.

On Sunday, the Pride Parade and Festival filled Fountain Square before the Procter & Gamble Fireworks on the Square.

The move out of Northside and Hoffner Park, which was home to the festival for many years, brought a great deal of criticism from within the LGBT community.

Crawford noted that, while Northside had been a great home for Pride and was a wonderful neighborhood, Hoffner Park �was not big enough for even 15,000 people,� and that city officials had asked him to move the festival and parade.

�When they came to me and said, you need to move Pride, we�ve been asking, we�ve been ignored, I went back and talked to the [Cincinnati LGBT] Center and asked how much of this was true,� Crawford said, �and they told me that they had been asked to move Pride.�

�You have to get permits for Pride,� he noted. �The feeling I got was, we�ve asked for three years and we�ve been ignored. If you don�t move it, you�re not getting permits.�

�They had very serious concerns, and I understood,� he said.

With the size of Pride, there were some safety considerations that made its continuing presence in Northside a problem. Crawford noted that the parade would march down one side of the street while traffic was still going on the other, and the festival-goers would overflow into open streets. Police and city officials were always panic-stricken that someone would stumble or misstep and be hit by a car. Pride had just outgrown its home.

�I think that�s something that Northside residents should be proud of,� Crawford said.

�Northside is doing its own Pride,� Crawford said. �I�m all for it, it�s another event for the LGBT community. This is not a competition thing, they�re just trying to restore Pride in their neighborhood because it was a big part of their community.�

Another bit of controversy arose when professional anti-gay activist Phil Burress claimed would be rampant debauchery on the streets of downtown Cincinnati on the Fourth of July Weekend. He called for his supporters to avoid the city at all costs that weekend.

Apparently, Burress� fatwa had a beneficial effect on Pride.

�We didn�t have a single protester,� Crawford said. �Not one.�

The flap with Burress led the local Fox affiliate to do a poll online and through viewer call-in as to where Pride should be, and when, and 65 percent �said it should be downtown and they can have it any day they want,� Crawford noted.

As for the day, that will likely change next year, despite the fact that having Monday off probably helped attendance.

�We�ve been having all kinds of discussions about the date for next year. I didn�t want to have it on the Fourth this year, and there�s a gigantic Christian Bible convention that has most of the hotel rooms booked next year,� he said. �We have an event at the convention center, which makes it difficult.�

�If we bounce up a week, we have Hyde Park Blast, another neighborhood event that has done a tremendous job of building, you have Chicago Pride, Cleveland Pride, Lexington Pride,� he continued. �Right now, we�re leaning to the following week, the eighth, ninth and tenth of July.�

He said that there is a volunteer appreciation happy hour on July 18, and they will ask attendees their opinion on that weekend for next year�s facilities.

Crawford pointed out that 47 other cities in the U.S. have their Pride celebrations outside of June, the traditional month because of the June 28 anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York.

�I think the people who protested at Stonewall would be proud that the country has moved to a point where we can just get together and be visible,� he said, noting that �I never forget why we have Pride.�

This was the first year the Gay Chamber of Commerce organized the events. Originally, it was put together by an independent committee, but when new leaders failed to step up and take� the reins, the board handed it to the Cincinnati LGBT Center, who started organizing it in 2005. After the 2009 event, the center handed it to the chamber, formerly the Queen City Careers Association and the producers of the Listings Resource Guide.

�The center did a brilliant job of walking the line between not wanting to be too involved, because they handed it off to us and didn�t want to tell us how to do it, but being there and being supportive if we needed it,� Crawford said. �It was stressful, but every time I started to get stressed, there was support there that was amazing so I never got to the point where I wanted to throw myself off of a cliff.�

He said that the organizers of Indy Pride came out and had high praise for the event.

According to Crawford, they told him they were impressed by Cincinnati�s reception of Pride, telling him, �In Indianapolis, they allow us to have Pride downtown. Your city is not just allowing you to have Pride downtown, they embrace it, and that puts you ahead of Indianapolis.�

Apparently, Indianapolis organizers could not quite picture their mayor leading the Pride parade through downtown, as Cincinnati Mayor Mark L. Mallory did.

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