Pittsburgh's GLBT community ramped up its celebration of pride this year with a new event June 16.
Pride in the Street brought a throng of revelers -- more than 2,000 tickets were sold in advance -- to Liberty Avenue between 10th Street and Seventh Avenue for an evening of dancing, drinking and celebrating, according to event coordinator Tom Schneck. While the annual Pride Week parade is a staple of the event, the Liberty Avenue party was a new happening.
Pride in the Street attracted people of all ages, races and, of course, sexual orientations. People like drag queen Esta Lamierda mingled with Hollywood writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch, who presided over the party as master of ceremonies.
Lamierda approached Vilanch and asked him if he'd ever been with a drag queen before.
Vilanch, the quirky, chubby personality best known for his stint on Hollywood Squares and his joke-writing for Emmy and Oscar awards shows, laughed: "Oh please, I've been one before."
Music blared from a large stage occupied by DJ Julian Marsh, who played remixes of songs like Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," before '80s teen pop star Tiffany performed for the audience. The vibrant crowd continued to swell as several men danced in their underwear and handed out green glow sticks as the sun went down.
Vilanch -- who was wearing a shirt that said "Come to the dark side, we have cookies" -- hoped that more people would show up "when the sun goes down and the vampires come out."
He said he approaches every situation in life with laughter, but a lot of things in the gay community aren't a laughing matter.
"Something like this is quite an accomplishment, especially if a lot of people come," Vilanch said. "[I]t's important for people to come out like this. As long as we remain invisible, it's easier to demonize us."
Pride in the Street capped off Pittsburgh's 2007 Pride Week celebration, which included an Awareness March down Fifth Avenue last Saturday and a pool party on Mount Washington on Thursday. It also included the annual Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival and a new show at The Warhol courtesy of the Carryin' On Project which exhibited Teenie Harris photos depicting Pittsburgh's black queer life in the 1930s and '40s.
This year's Pride Week festivities offered more events than years past, but some people in Pittsburgh's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community feel that the city is still far behind places like Toronto or Buffalo, according to Schneck.
"Pittsburgh is a great place to live, but the gay community is very small," he said. "There is still a very conservative element in the city."
Partners Keith Parker and Bob Paraschak called Pittsburgh's gay community "horrible and unorganized," a label that people like Schneck are trying to get rid of by hosting larger and more organized events like Pride in the Street. "It's a 'don't ask, don't tell' mentality in Pittsburgh," Paraschak said. "It's not that people here aren't open; they just don't participate."
Some in the GLBT community, however, felt that a giant block party wasn't necessarily the best way to expand the event. For example, Sue Kerr blogged on www.pghlesbian.com June 17 that Pride Week was a very nice event "but nothing exceptional happened."
Kerr continued: "The big news seemed to be an 'adult' street party on Liberty Avenue. I guess that's OK, but the level of hype ... plays right into stereotypes about our community so I pretty much ignored it. If you want to get drunk and dance on Liberty Avenue, fine. Just don't make it the hallmark of PrideFest."
However, those in attendance, such as Lamierda, enjoyed the party and weren't afraid to participate. Lamierda's slogan for the night was "loud, proud and well-endowed."
"Pittsburgh is such a diverse city, but people are so afraid to be gay," Lamierda said. "I have a lot of friends who wouldn't come out tonight for the fear that someone would see them. People are so uncomfortable in their own skin."
But a man calling himself Kelly Mack, who was in drag, thinks the corporate attitude toward gays in Pittsburgh is a large factor in the lack of openness and participation.
"I work for a company that is completely homophobic," Mack said. "I can't come out at work because they would find a reason to fire me."
Mack feels that a close-minded attitude is still prevalent in Pittsburgh, but events like Pride in the Street are providing a brighter future for the gay community in the city.
"Pittsburgh pride grew up tonight," Mack said. "Parties like this stimulate people to come out of their closet and celebrate. This is a great party, and hopefully it will get better every year."