Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

A Weekend of Gay Pride

Pridefest gets all the attention, but the Pride Parade is a true slice of Milwaukee that draws a very diverse crowd.

By - Jun 5th, 2015 03:57 pm
Mr. and Miss PrideFest 2014. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mr. and Miss PrideFest 2014. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s Pridefest Celebration, which takes place this weekend, is one of the most diverse in the nation. You want proof? Just check out how many straight people make it a Must Do event on their calendars. Take Mark and Spring Gierach of Mequon, for example. They come down every year, Mark said Thursday, while he and his wife enjoyed the opening of Jazz in the Park, another event that draws a diverse crowd to Downtown. “I have a friend who gets me tickets to a lot of events,” Mark said. “So I asked about the PrideFest tickets. She said she left them at home, because she thought I wouldn’t want them,” he added with some exasperation,

The Gierachs will make it to the event, you can be sure, and plan to be in the crowds that watch the Pride Parade on Sunday. The two events each celebrate the Gay Life in Milwaukee, but are held at different locations.

Mark and Spring Gierach. Photo by Michael Horne.

Mark and Spring Gierach. Photo by Michael Horne.

PrideFest takes place Friday through Sunday at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, down there by the Summerfest Grounds, don’tcha know.

The fest is “the nation’s largest LGBT festival with permanent festival grounds, owned and operated entirely by volunteers each and every year,” and has been operating annually since 1987. It celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of the LGBT community while providing an opportunity for networking and outreach as well as educational and support services.

The festival grounds opened June 5 at 3:00 p.m. Opening ceremonies will commence at 6:30 p.m. with Alex Newell honoring the fest, and will be followed by a full performance. Many dance and signing performances as well as educational presentations will be held throughout the weekend, including performances by En Vogue, Ani DiFranco, Ty Herndon, and more. Trixie Mattel and Trannika Rex will host events at the dance pavilion.

Trixie Mattel, a Milwaukee native, was a contestant on this year’s RuPaul‘s Drag Race, a wildly campy television show that draws a crowd Monday nights at This Is It, 418 E. Wells St. (That is why the checkered flags fly outside along with the rainbow ones.)

The Pride Parade is its own animal. You could call it America’s Straightest Parade, based on its route, which happens to be due north on S. 2nd St. The parade kicks off at the Allen Bradley Clock Tower and barrels its way up old Reed Street until it dismantles itself at the corner of W. Freshwater Way. There is not a single bend or twist on the route, but don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of bending and twisting on the part of the hundreds of participants, which usually includes a scattering of politicians like Chris Abele, Gwen Moore, Tim Carpenter and Jocasta Zamarripa among others.

The Milwaukee Area Ursine League had the best float at last year’s event, while one of the best decorated vehicles belonged to the gang from BMO Harris Bank. Bears and Bankers co-exist at the Parade.

A year ago the parade and festival took place at the time that gay marriage had been legalized in Wisconsin over the objections of folks like Scott Walker — a politician who will certainly not make the fest or the parade part of his schedule. In the year that has passed the gay experience has even further merged into the mainstream. Straight bars that line the parade route set out tables and chairs so patrons can enjoy the festivities. Sabbatic, for example, has hoisted the Rainbow Flag for the occasion, and Just Art’s, at the end of the route, has always made a big deal over the big show.

The center of the action is the intersection of S. 2nd St. and W. National Ave. That is where the reviewing stand is located, with non-stop commentary keeping the crowd entertained. That duty is undertaken by the reliably hilarious Lizzie Bordeaux, the raffish character that sometimes occupies the otherwise sedate persona of Jon Alan Bauer. The “sister bars” of Fluid and Walker’s Pint (Motto: “Lock Up Your Daughters”), located right across the street from each other and just south of the intersection, are both very busy for the event, and are well poised to catch a glimpse of the action outside, which rivals that going on inside. As early as Wednesday out-of-towners started arriving at the Pint to take a look around and settle into the surroundings.

You may expect to find Germaine Bowers front and center at the parade managing somehow to stay awake as late as 5 p.m. (She is another of the straight supporters of things gay, but has to get up each morning quite early to open the Y-Not II Coffeetails by 6 a.m., so this is a late night for her.)

That the parade is held on a neighborhood street, rather than at the festival grounds, is significant in itself. It emphasizes the community aspect of gay life — of all life. There are many in attendance who don’t care whether the parade is straight or gay. They just want to be part of the excitement, and to grab whatever candy is thrown their way. Rainbow flags festoon the street, adding a decorative touch to the surroundings.

Although the route hasn’t changed over the years, the street certainly has. It has been resurfaced and streetscaped, and new restaurants like Morel join established places like Shaker’s, which was a pioneering straight place in what had been a rather desolate neighborhood. Other bars like Zad’s, and Steny’s (both of which have been featured in our Bar Exam columns, as has been Fluid) get in on the abundant action. Milwaukee Brewing Company did not used to be open for the event, but its neighbor Central Standard Distillery, also new to the street, will likely be open.

But, next door, Boom will not be open. That long-running gay bar closed last year. It will be replaced by a pizza restaurant.

Jack Fennimore contributed to this story.

2014 Pride Parade

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