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Pride without Prejudice 

Expanded festivities draw large, diverse crowds

The weekend of June 21-22 saw the LGBT community's biggest march yet, and a celebration of one of its major legislative triumphs of recent years. It also featured another march, this one by feminist activists seeking their own visibility and warning of complacency.

PrideWeek, the Delta Foundation's new, expanded week of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride festivities throughout the city, was capped off by a march -- PrideMarch -- that saw thousands participate. In past years, the march -- a single-day event -- had ended with festivities at the North Shore Riverfront Park. This year, a section of Liberty Avenue was closed both for PrideFest, Sunday afternoon's family-friendly events, and Pride in the Streets, a kick-up-your-heels Saturday night party.

The moment of PrideWeek which will have the most historical significance, though, was Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signing legislation at PrideMarch creating a domestic partnership registry in the city. While the registry -- open to all couples, opposite- or same-sex, over age 18 with $25 and proof they live together -- doesn't have any legal teeth, it could set protocol for corporations to administer same-sex benefits to their employees. Officials in other cities with registries in place have said they create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT families.

"The city estimated 15,000 people" says Gary Van Horn, president of the Delta Foundation. "It was the largest Pride parade ever. [Ravenstahl signing the legislation] was great. It added more credibility to the festival -- it broke it out into the media a little bit."

Owen Baker has attended LGBT pride marches in Pittsburgh for years, but called the revamped, relocated and expanded march "like 90 times as good" as past festivals. Baker was sitting at a picnic table on Liberty Avenue tucking into festival food with Amanda Getsinger and Danielle Eastman, friends from the Steel City Softball League, the city's 12-team gay league.

"The fact that the city is OK with shutting down the streets -- there's nothing more empowering. It was as ideal as you could have," Baker said. "I don't know any of these people from Adam but they're based on the same ideals, we're all together. It's empowering, it's nice that Pittsburgh recognizes that. You see families, leather bears, dykes on bikes -- they're together."

Getsinger said the Downtown location will have spillover beyond PrideWeek for her: "I was taking notes for what businesses were open so I could go to them again: 'Oh, you were open during Pride, you support the homos!'"

Proximity to the Three Rivers Arts Festival was a plus, the friends said. It attracted more passersby to Pride, as did a Pirates home game, and created a more welcoming atmosphere at Arts Fest.

"Even at Arts Fest, we held hands," says Eastman. "It was great."

Venice Williams and Amy Pavlik, with Williams' daughter Zhenice Hasan ("almost 8," and sporting lots of face-paint), said they enjoyed the new location.

"It's right by all the bars that the gay community is familiar with," said Williams. "There were older people mixed in with a young crowd. It was very accessible, they had activities for the kids," she said.

"There were a lot of straight couples out," added Pavlik.

On Saturday, about 100 women and a tiny smattering of men took to Downtown's streets in Pittsburgh's third annual Dyke March. Historically, dyke marches, which claim separate space for women, are the day before a city's larger gay pride march. The march's mission statement says: "Our realities and issues have been set to the side of the larger 'inclusive' GLBT umbrella, and we've been told we must compromise."

PrideWeek and Dyke March had earlier considered joining forces, with Delta Foundation (PrideWeek's sponsor) offering to help run Dyke March. Differences in ideology and views on corporate sponsorship ultimately led to the events remaining separate, but they had overlapping participants.

Betty Hill, executive director of the PERSAD center and keynote speaker of Dyke March, said, "There is a place for the protest aspect of the GLBT movement. I think within the GLBT community we can't forget about the need to be fully inclusive. The dyke march keeps us honest.

"I'll be in [PrideMarch] too, but [Dyke March] emphasizes the differences. Women pay more attention to issues of power and inequality. The celebration [of PrideWeek] is less 'protest' anymore. There are times when we gather in our sameness to take action, and times to pay attention to our differences."

Hill admired the consensus-based organizing the Dyke March committee did: "It's hard work if you don't want to sell out to power. These women really did the hard work of creating this event."

Marchers followed four-foot-tall vagina sculptures, which drew a wedding party out of the Omni William Penn. Bridesmaids in saris stopped to take photos with the papier-mâché anatomy.

"I'm not afraid for people to assume I'm a lesbian," says Jona Dumbleton, who marched in support of her best friend. "I'm not a dyke but if I didn't come, it would be ridiculous -- she's my lifelong best friend."

Monica Avery says she shares the anti-corporate bent of many involved with Dyke March, but that she still participates in Pride. "I'll come down [to Pride]," she says. "I think it's important -- because of the corporate sponsorship, it's more visibility. We don't take corporate sponsorship but we can use the avenues they've created."

For Jess "Bobcat" Prokop, Dyke March was the first LGBT-pride event she's ever participated in. "The reaction of the public was positive. I thought it was going to be more having to be in this offensive stance. It was way more celebrate-y."

"I love to see every different spectrum of women out here," says Erin Hart. "Not every dyke looks like me, not every dyke looks like Bobcat. We're all fighting for one cause."

click to enlarge Thousands packed Downtown June 22 for the city's expanded PrideMarch. - DEMIAN ASPINWALL
  • Demian Aspinwall
  • Thousands packed Downtown June 22 for the city's expanded PrideMarch.

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