Three years ago, the Post-Gazette's Ervin Dyer wrote a half page story on the growth of PrideFest. Two years ago, Caitlin Clearly wrote a short, vapid piece about gay flash. Last year, Anita Srikameswaran wrote a thoughtful story about Governor Rendell's participation in PrideFest and the issue of gay marriage.
This year? PrideFest merits a black and white photo with a caption indicating that 300 people participated in the parade and then went to the festival. It is not even online so I have to tell you to turn to the Region section and look for it.
This is the same thing they do for the Strawberry Festivals and Pumpkin Patch events. Cute picture, little caption and … next. What the hell does this say about PrideFest — that we are just a fun little festival with nothing newsworthy happening?
Well, actually, that's not far from the truth. It was a very nice event, but nothing exceptional happened. The parade grand marshall was this very cute older man that I had never heard of who apparently was instrumental in launching funding for AIDS services. He gave a little speech about how great the older gay white men are and how us young folks should respect them. The parade was charming and a little zippy, the vendors did a brisk business, old friends reconnected … overall, a nice afternoon. But nothing significant really happened.
The big news seemed to be an “adult” street party on Liberty Avenue. I guess that's okay, but the level of hype, IMHO, plays right into stereotypes about our community so I pretty much ignored it. If you want to get drunk and dance on Liberty Avenue, fine. Just don't make it the hallmark of PrideFest.
Maybe PrideFest has become mainstream enough that it serves its purpose of providing a celebration and that's all. Because, frankly, there wasn't any more substance to it. I was astounded at how so many politicians could be in one place and not say anything political. Let's do a quick review of who was there — Bill, Doug and Jimmy M. from City Council, City Council candidates Bruce Kraus and Patrick Dowd. Luke. Jack McVay.
Let's do a not-so-quick review of who wasn't there. Dan Frankel. Chelsa Wagner. Wayne Fontana. Rich Fitzgerald. Tonya Payne. Dan Onorato. Michael Lamb. Brenda Frazier. Heather Arnet. I'm sure some had good reasons, but it is absolutely noticeable when some of your biggest allies don't attend the biggest event of the year. Allies, perhaps you should let those of us who are paying attention what happened.
Here's my problem. None of them said anything political. They wished us a nice day, lauded the gays that they do know and made some other rah-rah comments. Only Steve Glassman, chairman of the PA Human Relations Commission, even mentioned political issues. I was stunned. Where was my friend Bill's mojo? And what happened to the County Council's promise to work toward consider domestic partner benefits? I guess if no one from County Council shows up, you don't have to talk about that.
So what does this all mean? Have we as a community arrived to the point that PrideFest is benign? After all, our mayor understands our struggle for acceptance. If that's not apocalyptic, I don't know what is …. hey, do you think Luke has gay friends? Do you think he'll ever invite Ledcat and me over for dinner?
Consider this. A week ago, the Post-Gazette ran a very lengthy story, complete with three sidebars, about gay parenting. I was braced for the ire filled letters of protest, but none appeared. In fact, only one letter has been printed and it applauds the article (thanks to Dr. Michael Marshall of the University of Pittsburgh).
In fact, the Post-Gazette and the Trib run gay oriented articles year round. When newsworthy things happen. Maybe PrideFest just isn't newsworthy.
The problem I have is that we can be lulled into a sense of complacency. Sure, life for your average white middle class gay couple has improved dramatically, but many of us still face huge barriers in finding housing, at the workplace, even just walking down the streets. The fact that none of the local fundies show up with protest signs doesn't mean that the anti-gay rhetoric isn't spewing about the faith communities this morning. And I'm sure more than one parent rushed their children past the festival or the drunkfest for fear of gay exposure.
For the first time in a long time, the General Assembly is considering legislation to help us by extending discrimination protections to include sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We aren't fighting back marriage amendments this time. We are fighting for something. Something that our good friends Dan Frankel and Chelsa Wagner are actively supporting. Something that has a chance to pass. This is the time to stand up and be counted, not merely bask in the sun at Riverfront Park or frolic on Liberty Avenue. It is a shame that not a single state legislator could make the time to rally the troops. Dan, Chelsa and Wayne missed a hell of an opportunity to promote this legislation.
Maybe now that Pride is on solid financial footing, they can continue to move forward. Bringing in nationally known comedian Poppy Champlin was refreshing. We liked Eric Himan. Continuing to pump that up and professionalize it is a good step. More Pride events would be nice, too. I know the age old issue is that they can only do as much as their small volunteer crew can manage. So more people need to get involved to make it happen.
We aren't picking strawberries, after all.
ps: if strawberry picking has any sexual connotation whatsoever, I am unaware of it so don't mock me.