‘Come out, come out’ for June 17 PrideFest

The 2006 Pittsburgh  PrideFest will recognize the achievements of the region’s GLBT community and its importance to the cultural, social and economic vitality of the area.

        Organizers expect the June 17 celebration to attract 6,000 to 8,000 participants—two to three times as many people as in previous years.

        PrideFest chairman Jeff Freedman said the event will retain the flavor of past celebrations, but that the scale will be larger and more visible.

        “Past Pittsburgh events have been smaller, comfortable, with a ‘fair in the park’ feel to them,” Freedman said. “This year, the community as a whole has been more politically active. Pittsburgh’s gay community is coming out of the closet. We want to show ourselves.”

        The theme for this year’s event is “Pride—Not Prejudice,” and Freedman credits political organizing around the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and related “hot button” public policy issues with bringing the community and its allies together more strongly than before.

        A number of gay-supportive political allies are expected to participate in the June 17 Pride Awareness March and festival activities.

        “The festivalwill have mildly political overtones,” said Freedman, who stressed that

that perhaps the most political function of the event will be to show the larger community that GLBT people live in Pittsburgh and are important to the social and economic fabric of the region.

        Organizers are adamant that the event will not be a politically partisan event. Groups including the Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans are invited to participate in the parade and other pride-related activities.

        “Everything we do will reflect the fact that we’re fully integrated into the life and health of the region. The whole purpose of PrideFest is to celebrate our pride in who we are as individuals and a community,” Freeman said. “We’re proud of ourselves andour community.”

        Susan Haugh, founder of the Dreams of Hope performing arts youth group, has been named grand marshal for the parade.

        Freedman said Haugh’s talents reflect the best qualities and capabilities of the GLBT community. Her work, Freedman said, is “wonderful, extraordinary… a creation of the heart.”

        Haugh, a nationally recognized composer, writer and director and principal organizer of the Renaissance City Women’s Choir, said she was honored to have been selected.

        A “meet and greet” reception with Haugh will be held on the festival grounds at Riverfront Park on the North Shore following the Pride Awareness March.

        The daylong series of pride-related activities will start with the annual parade and end with the final inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game that night. Unlike many pride events across the country, Pittsburgh’s Pride Awareness March and festival are presented free of charge.

Pride Awareness March

        Participants will assemble for the Pride Awareness March beginning at 10am on Ross Street, downtown, behind the county jail. The march begins at noon and winds through the city, across Roberto Clemente Bridge and on to Riverfront Park.

        Shuttle service to downtown will be available for participants who park their vehicles at the lots near Riverfront Park. The number of shuttles scheduled has been doubled this year.

        The parade will be led by Dykes on Bikes, the only contingent not required to pre-register. In recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Steel City Softball League, members of the league will carry the 60-foot-long rainbow flag. As in past years, awards will be given for best parade entrants.

        Event organizers said all plans have been coordinated with police, emergency medical services and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Festival entertainment

        The Riverfront Park festival site will include two stages: a main stage featuring adult and family entertainment and a dance stage for teens and young adults. Games for children, food booths and refreshments will also be available.

        The main stage will be located near the new Del Monte headquarters. At 1:30pm, Cindy Shaffer will sing “God Bless the USA.” Rick Allison, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s board of directors, will welcome festival-goers and introduce parade grand marshal Haugh, who will officially open the festivities. Dignitaries and politicians attending the event will then be recognized.

        Emcees for the main stage are Betty Hill, executive director of Persad Center, and Scott Peterman, executive director of Shepherd Wellness Community.

“We’ve pulled together something for everyone, including children, teens and adults,” said Lee Marcuzzi, festival entertainment coordinator. “We’ve got quality activities that are loads of fun and family-friendly… from drag queens to choirs to sack races.”

        The afternoon’s entertainment lineup will include Broadway star Lenora Nemetz; Pittsburgh singer Brad Yoder; female impersonators Kierra Darshell, Eda Bagel and Diamond; Harrisburg drag king Jonathan; Dreams of Hope; and the Renaissance City Men’s and Women’s choirs.   

        A second stage will be set up for dancing to music provided by local disc jockeys.

        “The youth told us that they wanted to dance, and that’s what we’re pulling together,” said Marcuzzi, who expects the area to be “high energy.”

        Persad’s Youth Empowerment Project will organize activities for children. Persad Executive Director Hill said the group will be conducting face painting, sack races and other games.

        Already twice as many booths have been registered as at last year’s festival. Booth sponsors will include GLBT organizations, recreational groups and social service agencies. Several allies in the straight community will show their support by staffing booths at the festival.

        The GLCC booth, which will be operated by the Steel City Bowling League, will be the only booth authorized to sell refreshments.

Pride Picnic

        A special Pride Picnic will begin at 5:30pm on Federal Street and will last until the first pitch of the Pirates baseball game at 7:05pm. Tickets, which can be purchased the day of the festival, cost $20 per person for an all-you-can-eat “tailgate” buffet of hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans, nachos, soft drinks and beer.

        According to Jim Herman of the Pittsburgh Pirates, all proceeds will support the GLCC.

        Herman said the picnic grew out of a longstanding program operated by the Pirates to support local organizations and ethnic populations. In the past, similar picnics have been held to celebrate the contributions of Italian, Irish, Polish and other ethnic Pittsburghers.

        “Like baseball, the picnic will be extremely family-friendly,” Herman said. “We expect those enjoying the festival to be respectful of all people and remember to act in good taste.”

        “We’ve tried to coordinate everything from the Pride Awareness March to the entertainment to the picnic through the baseball game,” said Hermann. “This year we expect to present a seamless event, with one activity flowing smoothly into another and everyone enjoying the day.”

Pride Night at PNC Park

        The baseball game in PNC Park between the Pirates and the Minnesota Twins will begin at 7:05pm. Dreams of Hope will sing the National Anthem, which Hermann said was “a natural” choice. “The gay community is proud of its youth and proud of Susan Haugh, the group’s founder.” (See related report on page 7.)

        Pittsburgh’s GLBT community will receive a special salute on the ballpark’s Jumbotron. “We want to see a lot of smiles and laughter,” Hermann said.

        A large block of $20 tickets has been reserved for seating in a special “Pride Section” at PNC Park. Tickets will be sold at the Pirates box office and at the Pride Festival grounds from the back of a special Pirates truck. Tickets for less expensive seats will be available at the box office, but the seats are not located in the reserved Pride Section and the proceeds will not benefit GLCC.

        A ticket order form can be downloaded from the GLCC Web site at www.glccpgh.org.

Volunteers still needed

        The PrideFest committee still needs volunteers to assist with set-up, check-in, security and clean-up, as well as cars to chauffeur dignitaries in the parade.        To volunteer or for more information, visit the GLCC Web site at www.glccpgh.org.