AARP Pride Information and Resources for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People, Families and Allies - AARP
Sunday, September 20, 2009
What a great afternoon in downtown Roanoke for the 20th anniversary of Pride in the Park. The Pride Committee really outdid themselves this year with more vendors and a bigger crowd than I can remember in any previous year.
When I read the Roanoke Times story Saturday about this year's Roanoke Pride festival, it was mentioned alongside the Henry Street Festival, the annual celebration of the city's African-American cultural heritage. Throughout the summer months, there are festivals of all kinds on the Star City's historic City Market. There is a Latin festival, a Greek festival and Local Colors, which celebrates our multi-cultural community with food from all over the world.
What struck me most was that Roanoke Pride was treated the same as any of the numerous festivals held here every year. There was nothing sensational or scandalous about thousands of LGBT Roanokers gathering downtown for an afternoon of fun, music, food, entertainment and community.
Like most cities, our Pride events are open to the public, although we never expect straight folks, even the most liberal of them, to really show up. This year, quite a few did.
Despite the cloudy skies and spotty attempts at rain, the weather held and Elmwood Park was packed. The crowd may have exceeded last year's attendance of 3,000. There was no official tally when Paul and I left at around 4:30, but from what I saw, it must be a record breaker.
I met so many great people today and ran into loads of friends I hadn't seen in a while. I think that's really why Roanoke's LGBT's attend Pride every year. It's a chance to get out with your honey for a relaxed afternoon, hold hands if you want, steal a kiss or hug your friends and feel safe knowing you're not going to be harassed or stared at. You know, to do what straight folks take for granted.
I made some great contacts with organizations around the area like MPower Roanoke, which provides free HIV testing and Bruce and Celie from the Conflict Resolution Center, which assists with mediation, meeting facilitation, parent education and restorative justice.
I also spoke with Mardi Krantz from Equality Virginia (EV). When I introduced myself, Mardi greeted me with, "You're Rev. Steve!" She told me that this blog is the number one referring site to EV's site. I was blown away.
Mara Robins of "Seeds of Light", the New Age shop on the Roanoke City Market, told me that not only is she a neighbor of mine, but she's involved with a new P-FLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter right in here in Floyd County. Wow!
The Rogues Levi and Leather Club showed up in force with their annual Lock Up fundraiser. The Virginia Mountain Bears were there as well. I got the impression there were a lot of cross-over members between the two clubs.
And, of course, there were some fierce drag queens, like the first Miss Roanoke Pride, Ashley Adams, accompanied by Bunny, Honey, Seanica, and the reigning Miss Roanoke Pride, Miss Ledd, courtesy of The Park, Roanoke's best dance bar - straight or gay.
On the side bar on the right you'll find a link to my Flickr page where I've posted pics from today's wildly successful event. I've also posted the first part of them on my FaceBook page. I'll be uploading more tomorrow. I've also got some great video that I'll be posting as soon as I get it all edited. A big thanks to my partner, Paul for being my designated photographer today.
It speaks volumes about the progress we've made in this sleepy little southern city, that so many of our straight friends feel comfortable at our festivals and that we no longer feel self-conscious or resentful when they do.
While Pride in the Park is the biggest event of the year for our community, where we can feel a sense of freedom that we may lack in our daily lives during the rest of the year, the overall feeling that I came away with today is that we need more.
As I talked to my old and new friends today, I sensed a hunger for more than an annual event that unites us for a day. Every person that I spoke with told me how they wished there was more to do here for queer folks. While we love our local gay bars, some of us just aren't into the bar scene any more, or we never were.
There is a also an incredible sense of frustration in this town over the political apathy and lack of concern that our rights are violated in the Commonwealth of Virginia and all over this country on a daily basis. We want to feel a sense of connectedness and purpose that we've been lacking, but we're waiting for someone else to lead the way.
What has always made our struggle for equality different from other civil rights efforts is that we don't have a single leader. There is no Martin Luther King, Jr. challenging us to share his dream. It is up to us to lead ourselves and each other to the promised land.
If you felt any sense of freedom or joy or community at today's Pride in the Park, let that be your motivation to go to Washington, DC on October 11th for the National Equality March.
Get a group of your friends together and share the expenses by carpooling and splitting a hotel room if you have to. Stand up for yourself. Make your voice heard. Demand what was promised to you by our "fierce advocate", Barack Obama and what is guaranteed you by the U.S. Constitution -- full and equal status under the law.
No one is going to hand it to you. No one is going to do it for you. Go to Washington next month and show your Roanoke Pride.
Visit equalityacrossamerica.org for details about the National Equality March.