Wednesday, November 16, 2016

40th Annual Dayton Pride Festival

June 3-5, 2016 was the 40th annual Dayton Pride festival. Friday evening, June 3, kicked off the experience with a beer and food truck event in Courthouse Square downtown, which served as the center of Dayton Pride festivities. Later Friday night, there was a .5 kilometer bar crawl sponsored by Svedka vodka. Saturday festivities included a breakfast at MJ’s on Jefferson Street, the Pride parade at noon, Pride festival from 12-4 pm in Courthouse Square, followed by the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus at 8 pm in the Victoria Theatre. Sunday activities included a 5k run/walk sponsored by PFLAG and a round robin kickball tournament from noon to 6 pm.

I recently relocated to Cincinnati from Florida. I have attended Gay Pride celebrations in multiple cities, mostly in South Florida, but on June 4th, I attended my first ever Pride event in Ohio at Dayton Pride. Not only was this my first Ohio Pride event, but my first trip to Dayton as well. I tried not to have too many expectations as to what it would be like. But I did know that it would be the smallest Pride event I have ever attended.

I arrived in Dayton on Saturday around 11:30 am to watch the parade staging activities. There was palpable excitement in the air and choruses of “Happy Pride” rang out between friends and strangers alike. The sun was shining, although rain clouds threatened and finally burst in mid-afternoon. The visible police presence smoothed traffic issues for attendees and Dayton residents to minimize driving delays. After visiting the staging area, I walked along the first street of the parade route for several blocks, soaking in the atmosphere and listening in on conversations. Visitors to MJ’s spilled onto the outdoor patio, which provided a great viewing spot for the parade. Large and small rainbow flags were on sale from street vendors as well as other pride items. I found a spot on the curb towards the beginning of the parade route to watch, take notes, and pictures. Just down the sidewalk from me, a 30-something individual explained to her friend that she had been attending Dayton Pride events since the age of 16. She recounted her amazement at how Dayton Pride events and attendance had grown through the years, a sentiment echoed by a number of people during the afternoon festival.

The parade began a few minutes after noon, and for the next 35 minutes, individuals, floats, and other vehicles followed the parade route ending in Courthouse Square at Festival booths and vendors. 
There were visible representatives from all spectrums of the LGBTQ community as well as a number of community allies. A number of parade participants were from various church organizations, such as The Center for Spiritual Living,  Unitarian Universalist church, and David’s United Church of Christ. Walgreens and Kroger had large contingents as well. The color green seemed to be the theme of the day, as several organizations, such as the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, marched in matching green t-shirts. Equality Ohio had a visible presence, as well as GLSEN of Greater Dayton, PFLAG, and LGBTQ members from local colleges and Wright State University. Floats for Dayton bars were sponsored by Tito’s and Stoli vodka. I was dismayed and disappointed that HRC (Human Rights Campaign), my favorite civil rights organization, seemed to be missing in action in the parade, although they had a small booth at the festival. Due to the GLSEN contingent and student marchers from a local school, there were a number of children marching in the parade as well. These children were made to feel welcome at the festival in an area for children and families fittingly called “Rainbow Land,” which was new to the festival this year.

As the marchers rounded the final street corner and entered Courthouse Square, they were greeted on the left by several individuals holding signs that read “Homo sex is sin Romans 1” and “Repent of your sins Believe the gospel Obey Jesus Mark 1:15.” There was also an individual with a megaphone as well, yelling at people to repent or face hellfire. Instinctively, parade viewers with large rainbow flags moved in front of the picketers, shielding them from the marchers’ view. I was somewhat shocked to see the picketers, as I was unable to recall any other gay event I had attended where there were picketers, especially a Gay Pride event. Throughout the afternoon, most of the festival attendees ignored the picketers, although later in the afternoon they became louder and more unruly and aggressive. In response to their increasing volume an aggressive tone, the emcee asked festival goers to treat the protestors in a loving and civil manner. I was proud to see that happening for the most part, although I heard multiple comments within the crowd that the protestors should be physically removed from the festivities. Their presence was a tangible symbol of the work that is still needed in promoting LGBT civil rights in Ohio.

During the festival, I was able to speak with a number of individuals about the work of their organizations and what the festival meant to them, personally. Equality Ohio volunteers were signing up individuals for mailing and volunteer lists. They provided pamphlets on a number of current legal issues affecting the Ohio LGBT community, such as bathroom bills and conversion therapy. A member of the Center for Spiritual Living (Greater Dayton) reported that this was her sixth appearance at Dayton Pride, but she believed the Center had participated for at least the past eight years. Walgreens employees conveyed to me that it was important for them to have a visible presence; they view this type of community outreach as essential to show their support for equality. Medical students at Wright State University expressed they were visiting classes of their fellow medical students and conveying to them some of the unique experiences and challenges of the LGBT community in interacting with medical professionals. Kevin Mabry, the Co-Chairman of GLSEN of Greater Dayton, explained to me the exciting and important work they are doing in middle and high schools. I hope to provide more in-depth interviews and information about this important work in future issues.

Although I was only able to attend the Dayton Pride festivities on Saturday, I was buoyed by the optimistic tone of the festival goers and volunteers at the festival. Although we realize there is a long way to go in our journey to full equality for all members of our community, it is an exciting time to be an LGBT American. Attendance at Dayton Pride was robust and the younger generation was well-represented. Although admittedly different from my past Gay Pride experiences, I was able to appreciate the hope and optimism conveyed by festival attendees and volunteers alike. In the wake of the Orlando tragedy on June 12th, I have realized that these events are even more important for our community. It is vitally important to convey hope, love, optimism, pride, support, and acceptance as we connect and reconnect with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and heterosexual allies. Although Pride month has brought positive and negative experiences for our community, we must always remember that love and civility are the only ways to overcome the hate directed at our community.  

Porter, N. (July 2016).  Dayton celebrates 40th Pride Fest. The Gay Word, 25(2), 22-23. 

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