25 years of Pride

A look back and a look ahead

This weekend, Milwaukee will revel in its 25th annual PrideFest celebration. TCD takes a look at PrideFest's history, and what's in store for this year.

By - Jun 7th, 2012 04:00 am

A scene from the Pridefest Parade last year. (Photos by Sarah Weiss and Jennifer Bartel for TCD)

This weekend, Milwaukee’s LGBT community, and its allies, will celebrate in style at the 25th annual PrideFest. The oft-turned phrase, “You’ve come a long way baby,” applies to LGBT people more now than at any other time in history. The President and Vice-president both endorsed gay marriage, which is now legal in eight states and Washington D.C. California is taking steps to outlaw teen conversion therapy. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed. Almost daily, there is movement toward equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When looking for examples of these changes in our day to day life, a quick look at the history of Milwaukee’s Pride celebrations show the sharp contrast. In 1974, the Gay Liberation Front (later the Gay People’s Union) held several small activities over a week in early June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. There were dances and parties, including a ball that drew about 350 people. Over the next two years, and again in 1980 and 1981, these events continued, but without picking up much steam.

In October of 1987, many from Milwaukee joined nearly half a million Americans to march in D.C. for gay and lesbian rights. The AIDS epidemic had grown into a terrifying health crisis while President Ronald Reagan stood silent as his communications director, Pat Buchanan, said that AIDS is “nature’s revenge on gay men.” The march that fall provided the LGBT community a chance to express their grief and anger at having been so long overlooked by their fellow Americans and their government. It was at this event that NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was first displayed, to demonstrate the toll of AIDS in a tangible way.

In the summer of 1988, the newly formed Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee (later PrideFest, Inc.) took the momentum of the march and held a celebration that included a softball tournament, a ball, film festival and town hall meeting with elected officials. Each year, the event continued to grow. What was once an afternoon of dancing and picnicking with friends became a three day festival, attended by upwards of 30,000 people, with national music acts, a community village, entertainment for kids and some of the best roasted corn you can find all summer.

As Pridefest launches its 25th Anniversary celebration, we caught up with the board to get some inside information.

ThirdCoast Digest: How many volunteers does it take to put on a festival like PrideFest?
There’s a crew of 40 volunteers who work year round, according to PrideFest. These volunteers make up the PrideFest board, the production crew and other key roles. Over the weekend of the festival, there’s another core group of about 150 volunteers who work long shifts doing the minute-by-minute management of the event. And there are about 200 volunteers who help out in short shifts with ticket taking and the like. All together, a rough estimate of almost 30,000 volunteer hours are logged each year.

TCD: What’s new this year?
PrideFest said that they’ve expanded their use of the Summerfest grounds into the Harley Davidson area. This is something they’ve wanted to do for a while, and it’s allowed them to add PrideFest Wom!nz Spot™, a new hangout on the grounds. “It’s a lounge and café environment designed by women, but open to all,” says the board. “While the performers are all female, everyone is welcome to come and check it out.” The Wom!nz Spot will have cafe food and drinks available, plus live music and entertainment throughout the festival.

TCD: How are you celebrating your big anniversary?
In the weeks leading up the festival, PrideFest has been utilizing their Facebook page to recount the history of the last 25 years. Each day focuses on a specific year, asking for fan stories and photos from that year. “In order to appreciate who, what, where and how we are today, we need to look at where we started,” says the board. “Many of today’s festival goers only know of PrideFest as an official, City of Milwaukee festival on the Summerfest grounds. But they have no idea what challenges, controversies and triumphs it took to get there.”

During the festival itself, there will be other opportunities to look back at the long journey to where the LGBT community and its allies stand today. PrideFest is waiving the fee for the annual group commitment ceremony held during the festival. The ceremony will take place Sunday at 5:30 p.m., and all participants will receive a certificate and share a wedding cake, compliments of Simma’s Bakery.

The Wisconsin Gay History Project will exhibit its interactive display detailing the PrideFest History Timeline throughout the weekend. Additionally, the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival has put together film footage covering the last 25 years. The collection will be shown at two different times during the weekend.

TCD: Finally, how’s the weather supposed to be for the festival?
The PrideFest board wants to assure everyone that this weekend, it will all be “sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.”

Pridefest runs Friday, June 8, through Sunday, June 10, and hosts local talent on seven stages. Headliners Belinda Carlile, Taylor Dayne and Berlin (feat. Terri Nunn) will appear on the Miller Lite stage. Full schedule and tickets available online at www. pridefest.com.

Categories: LGBT, Life & Leisure

0 thoughts on “25 years of Pride: A look back and a look ahead”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully written article. Yet, I wonder why one would purposely denounce one President and not another for the seemingly ignorance for financial AIDs support. President Obabma’s support of Gay Marriage is cosmetic. However, President Bush’s compassion for trying to rid this world of AIDs is never mentioned. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1211/69587.html Personally, I do not believe that politics should be part of this discussion, but it was brought up, so I decided to expound on it. I hope we have a wonderful and safe weekend at the Summerfest grounds. Thank you for promoting this great event.

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