Has Pittsburgh’s PrideFest become just another Strawberry Festival?

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. 

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  • Humm…. what to say.
    I've been to Pride Fest. In the past, I was there to gather signatures. Man a booth. Network. — BUT — because I'm a Dem — and because I'm not in office now — I wasn't given the microphone.
    This year I wasn't invited to speak either.
    Had I been there and given the opportunity to speak, I would have shared many strong political thoughts. I wasn't given the opportunity.
    I would have talked about urban life, health care, being a libertarian, state bailouts, national I.D. — and much more than 'have a nice day.'
    I am not surprised (as you were astounded) at how so many politicians could be in one place and not say anything political. Bruce Kraus hardly has anything to say that makes sense politically.

  • I have volunteered for the Allegheny Health Dept, for the last 5 pride fest. (I took this year 0ff) I remember the very first one I was at, In Shenley Park. The parade consisted of maybe 5 cars, one Miss Pittsburgh, (there seems to be about 20 now, those queens just can’t make up their minds) there were perhaps 20 booths set up and a stage at the bottom of the hill where there was a radio playing CD’s and a few people dancing. I would say 5 % of the gay population in Pittsburgh at the time participated. The following two years Pride fest was near New York, New York which is now known as 5801, It was one block of booths again maybe 20, perhaps 15 % of the gay population was there. Let’s move to this year’s pride. There were thousands of gay and lesbians proud of who we are, and not ashamed to walk through the streets of Pittsburgh. Something this city has been begging for, for years. Remember it was only 5 years ago we were hidden in the park in Oakland.
    If you go to any other Large City there is Pridefest and then there is the Party. I do not know about everyone that reads this, but I know when I was in my 20’s I couldn’t wait to hit the gay club scene because I did not know where else to find others like me. I see nothing wrong in celebrating with a big party in the streets. It is much better than hiding in the basement of Pegasus. I do not believe it is feeding into the stereotypes. Does that mean all the straight people that tailgate are giving into some sort of stereotype or does it mean they are getting together with friends and having a good time to celebrate something they believe in?
    I have been to several other gay prides across the country. I was at the 2004 Gay Pride in D.C, election year. I went thinking it would be a great year for DC, all the Politian’s would be waving their gay flags in support of, us the voters. And there was NONE. Not one!!!! I was very disappointed. They I got to thinking. This is not about them; it is always about the Politian’s and what they can do for us. How are they going to support us, who will get our votes? I want it to be about US. What can we do for ourselves? The answer to me is simple, Just Be!!!
    As my girlfriend and I were walking down Liberty Ave. to the street Party ( I was curious and thought it would feel like QAF) we were holding hands. There was another lesbian couple in front of us also holding hands. A family of 4 was walking toward the couple in front of us, and the little boy looked at the women, looked at their hands and made a screwed up face. When he got to us he did the same thing, he seemed very confused as well. And right then and there I remembered what Pridefest is about; it is about moments like this going away. Sure I want healthcare benefit the same as everyone else. But I have benefits as well as my partner. I want to be able to marry my partner also. But in my mind we already are. What I want more than anything is for little boys and little girls not to look at me like I am an alien. That is something no Politian can do for me, but as long as my girlfriend will hold my hand down the street, the less people will look at me with discussed.

  • Actually, I do think that the tailgaters are a huge stereotype, but I could be biased since I live 1/2 mile from the stadiums and have to endure their obnoxious behavior on a regular basis. 🙂
    I agree with you that we want to achieve the social equality where children aren't phased by seeing same sex families walk by on the street. We disagree on the best way to achieve that. A big street party is fine and I'm sure people enjoyed themselves. But I personally don't see how that party translates into more tolerance. It translates in a big fun whooping good time for the participants which is cool. Just not my scene and, I hope, not some sort of defining moment for the LGBTQ community.
    Here's the deal … the Pride in the Streets float was filled with cute young half-dressed boys. No women. No families. No lesbians holding hands. A young man ran up to me wearing only underwear and asked me to take a lollipop from the waistband. That's not my personal idea of promoting a fun street party for the community. You never see that at the tailgaters; if I saw that hapepning in the field behind my house, I'd call the police. It was a promotion of a certain type of party. Which, again, is fine. For those who want to celebrate that way.
    I make fun of the street party b/c I think its a bit silly and has grown to become this huge step forward for the community. That's ridiculous. But I don't think it should go away. It just needs to be kept in perspective.

  • I must agree with you also about the little boys and their underwear. I was not a big fan of seeing that either but lets take a look at why there is more of the boy toys and less of the lesbians. The gay boys are the ones who are willing to spend their money. They like pretty sparkly things. So my girlfriend and I decided next year we wanted to be on the community to make sure it is geared toward the entire community rather than The “Brain and Justin’s” of Pittsburgh.
    As for the party itself we will have to agree to disagree. I am not a big fan of parties and drunken fools, I do like to socialize at a local bar once a month or so just to get out of the house and meet new people. I do not think that a gay person drinking in the street one time a year is going to put anymore bad publicity on us then there already is. There are all types of cultures that have a BIG party , the irish in station square for one. To me it is just another group of people celebrating who they are.
    I respect your opinion and hope you can respect others as well. If you would like to join my girlfriend and I in getting involved next year let me know. I am sure they would be more that accepting of any help, or new perspectives.

  • I do respect your opinion as well as the opinions of those who chose to attend the street party. Like I said, it is perfectly fine to have it and kudos to you for getting involved to strengthen it.
    I'm already working on another type of pride event to diversify the types of things people can experience over the month, but thanks for the invitation. I like when people take initiative. That moves us forward.

  • I am 43 years old and this Pridefest was the first one that I've ever attended. I don't really have anything to compare it to, but I thought it was great and I got everything out of it that I was expecting to get out of it…..mainly fun and companionship with my partner and lesbian friends. I am a very happy gay woman and I feel that I have everything that I need in my life in regards to being a satisfied lesbian in the United States today. I'm not turning to the government to fix everything that needs fixed. When you think about it, there are far more pressing problems in our country that need attended to and they can't even take care of the big stuff. I'm not going to waste away my life feeling sorry for myself and what I can't have. Life is still good and I am very thankful that I have the freedom that I do have. It was very uplifting and enlightening for me to simply march in a parade with my partner and feel the energy and the pride and the sense of belonging at the festival and the party in the streets later that evening. It completely met all of my needs that I set out to meet that day and that night! Live for the moment! Love like there's no tomorrow! Laugh often and don't forget to have fun!

  • Thanks for posting, dikeonboard. I glad you had such a good experience at Pridefest — it is a nice event and a good one to find gay comraderie.
    We disagree with the live like there's no tomorrow philosophy. Most gays are forced into that perspective b/c our tomorrows are uncertain — no pension plan protections, no inheritance protections, no employment protections, not enough domestic partner health plans and, most importantly, no protections for our children. I think those are some of the biggest issues facing America (not just gay American), but you are right that our elected officials cannot seem to tackle them.
    I appreciate your joi de vive! Thanks again for posting. Voices like your need to be amplified so people realize that there are many well-adjusted gay people in the world.

  • Hi everyone, I just wanted to apologize for missing the event this year. I was in Florida visiting my dad for Father's Day – June 17 – which is also my birthday. Whenever the two land on the same day we try to celebrate together – and since my Dad lives in Ft. Lauderdale it often means that I am there on June 17th. I promise you however, that when I am in town I will always make it a point to attend the event. But I also want you to know that if I can be helpful or supportive throughout the year you should feel free to let me know. It is certainly important for public officials to show their support of the LGBT community by attending events like PrideFest but it is also importnat that we sustain continued dialogue all year-round too. Thanks for all of your hard work to make Pittsburgh an inclusive community for all! Heather Arnet

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