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July 1, 2011

Columbus Pride honors elders and the young

Columbus--A plethora of numbers were being bandied about during Columbus Pride on June 17 and 18, ranging from five, the percent attendance increase over last year, to 30, the anniversary, to 50, the number of years that two of the grand marshals have been together as a couple, all the way up to 210,000, the estimate of the number of people who attended over the course of the event.

“We had a great time,” said Karla Rothan, the executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the organization that produces Columbus Pride in addition to being the state capital’s LGBT center. “We honored our trailblazers, about 60 adults over the age of 70.”

Included among them were couples who had been together for 40 or 45 years, as well as Elton Wilson and Carl Eckart, who have been together for half a century.

“We had a wonderful lounge for them at Pride, and then a terrific brunch for them on Sunday,” Rothan noted.

Having these elders present was, in fact, Rothan’s favorite part of the weekend.

“The 70-year-olds were in their 20s in 1969, and thirty years ago when we first started Pride, they had families they were afraid to come out to, they had jobs they were afraid of losing,” she noted. “The couple who had been married for 50 years, this was their first Pride! It was really inspiring to see them put themselves out there.”

The event enjoyed sponsorship from AARP, acknowledging the increasing visibility of LGBT seniors, and the Columbus Office on Aging had a strong presence at the parade and festival.

Rothan stressed the importance of programming to the demographic; as the baby boomers reach their senior years, an increasing portion of the population will feel the isolation that comes as people get older. Columbus Pride was a big step towards showing LGBT seniors that they are, in fact, not alone.

In addition to the contingent of seniors, the other end of the age spectrum was represented with young adults from Fusion, Stonewall Columbus’ social space for college-age LGBT, queer, questioning and allied people.

Bridging gaps like the generation divide was also evident in the selection of the headliner for the entertainment.

Chely Wright became the first prominent country-western star to come out of the closet last year, and is very vocally Christian, illustrating to the nation’s heartland that LGBT people are, indeed, members of their families, their churches, their everyday life.

Stonewall Columbus also rented some floats this year. According to Rothan, it was a fun addition; generally, the organization’s staff and volunteers are too busy putting Pride together to construct floats, so renting them provided an opportunity to add them to the parade.

One was a birthday cake that blew bubbles, another was a gazebo with a fountain.

“Being able to rent one without having to worry about building it was really good,” she laughed.

Pride will stay at Goodale next year

This was the third year in a row that the festival was held in Goodale Park, after construction forced a move from Bicentennial Park in 2009. The Columbus Commons in the old venue is already open, and Bicentennial Park will officially reopen in July. Despite that, however, Columbus Pride is likely to stay where it is for the next few years.

“I think we’re going to stay put where we are,” she said. “We were growing out of Bicentennial Park anyway. We could only put vendors on one side of the street, and it was difficult to march down there with that crowd.”

“I think we’ll stay put here as long as the residents are happy and allow us to stay,” Rothan stated.

“We’ve got some room at Goodale, but we’re going to have to be diligent about the parade and make sure that’s manageable,” she opined. Rothan noted that they have made a special effort to train their Pride volunteers in customer service, so even if Columbus Pride is not the largest in the country, it is the friendliest. “We really want them to feel that friendly atmosphere form the minute they start working with us.”

She also believes that, no matter how massive this year’s festival and parade were, next year will likely be significantly larger.

“It’s got so big now, and next year our grand marshal is going to be our mayor, Michael Coleman, it’s the city’s bicentennial and it’s going to be an election year,” she posited. “Allies are the theme of next year.”

“I think it’s going to be even bigger next year because we’re inviting those folks to participate in a major way, so we’re going to need to get more volunteers, hire more security so the crowd and everybody is managed, because I know we’re going to have a bigger crowd next year,” Rothan mused, while noting that the extra security will be added to the Columbus police officers working the event, who she said do a terrific job every year.

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