City’s ’97 parade, festival celebrate pride, ‘defend diversity’

Pittsburghers in Gear–that’s PIG–are scheduled to be there. So are members of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. And bars like the Pittsburgh Eagle. And what’s a gay pride parade without drag queens?

Pittsburgh PrideFest ’97 kicks off at noon June 21 with a parade starting at the corner of South Aiken Avenue and Walnut Street in Shadyside.

Following the parade at approximately 1:30pm, a brief program opens an afternoon festival of entertainment, food, displays and merchandise sales in Mellon Park. Entertainment Coordinator Ted Hoover promised an eclectic lineup of local performers who reflect the diversity of the community. “It’s going to be fun–a day just for us,” Hoover told Out.

Prompted by recent legislative activity to ban same-sex marriages, the Three Rivers Pride Committee, organizers of the event, chose “Defending Diversity” as this year’s local pride theme.

“It’s all in fun,” noted PrideFest Media Coordinator Paul Anater of this year’s theme and logo–a pair of military-style dog tags–which have been printed on hundreds of T-shirts.

The parade will follow the same route as last year: Stepping off on Westminster Place, marchers will turn on to South Aiken Avenue then to Walnut Street. At South Negley Avenue, the parade turns left onto Ellsworth Avenue, on to Spahr Street, then back to Walnut Street. The route continues onto College Avenue to Fifth Avenue, then into Mellon Park.

“You don’t have to march to participate,” Anater said. “Attending PrideFest ’97 is a way to say we exist and that we contribute much to society. It’s an opportunity to be seen, heard and make our presence known,” he added.

Cindy Klink, a Lambda Foundation board member who has participated in every national and local pride parade since 1979, echoed Anater’s sentiments. “It’s important for us to be out–and not just for the parade. The more of us who are out, the better off our community is. It will change all our lives for the better.”

Klink recalled the early days of the local pride parade when only a hundred or so brave souls trooped from the Civic Arena along Fifth Avenue into downtown. “[In the early 1980s] there were so few of us–only a hundred or so–that is was embarrassing.” she said. “I’m really glad we’ve moved to Shadyside. It’s more fitting for our community,” she noted.

Klink noted that more and more people are participating locally each year. “It’s exciting that our march has grown to more than 1,000 of us last year. It shows Pittsburgh that there are a lot of us.”

GLCC member Jim Fischerkeller also remembered earlier pride celebrations dating back to the 1970s. Fischerkeller helped organize the 1979 event, which spanned 10 days and included films, theater performances, discussion groups and a parade. He said Pittsburgh’s Pride Parade then became an on-again, off-again event until the past decade, when interest in the parade again increased and was sustained.

This year’s event marks the third time the parade has been organized by the Three Rivers Pride Committee. Barry Atkins, the group’s treasurer, is also in his third year as “step-off” coordinator for the parade and is responsible for making sure groups and individual marchers are lined up and ready for the parade’s 1.8 mile course.

According to Atkins, marchers do not have to be associated with a group to participate. “We invite anyone and everyone to march–just join in, especially if you see friends,” he said. Bystanders often become participants, Atkins said, and carry supportive signs and banners. “We were pleasantly surprised last year on Ellsworth Avenue by rainbow flags and banners stretched over the street for marchers to walk under,” he added.

Last year’s march spanned eight blocks with some 1,000 participants. Organizers expect this year’s parade to be just as large. “It’s very colorful. We encourage everyone to join us,” Atkins said.

Groups can still register to march in the Pride Parade by calling 247-1545. A registration fee is being charged to groups to help defray the costs of the parade. Individual marchers are not required to register or pay a fee. Performers for the PrideFest can still register by calling Ted Hoover at 734-8303.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh’s Out. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.