Jack Fennimore
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PrideFest Boasted 120 LGBTQ Artists

45,787 people attended, making it the largest pride event ever held in Wisconsin.

By - Jun 10th, 2019 03:19 pm
Coco Montrese at Dragapalooza. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Coco Montrese at Dragapalooza. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

PrideFest once again brought color, fun and love to the Henry Maier Festival Park.

The four-day fest hosted more than 120 LGBTQ artists across eight different stages, according to the official website. Dragapalooza welcomed drag queen icons like Trixie Mattel, Ginger Minj, Coco Montrese and more. The Red Light District, a brand new addition to the fest for guests 18 and over, held demonstrations and Q&A sessions covering topics relevant to LGBTQ people.

The fest also recognized LGBTQ community leaders with the Pride Awards at opening ceremonies. Diverse & Resilient Board of Directors Member Elle Halo of Health Connections, Inc. won the Individual award for her work as a community health champion and an activist for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Karen Dettmer was honored with the Ally award for her work in establishing the rainbow crosswalks at the intersection of N. Jefferson and E. Wells streets. Bi+ Pride Milwaukee received the Organization award for their work in promoting the bisexual community through awareness campaigns, outreach events and social outings. Mark Mariucci received the Legacy award for his lifetime commitment to the LGBTQ community, including being a publisher of QUEST magazine for 25 years and being the former owner of ZA’s Videobar in Green Bay.

Nat Werth received the Valor award after Sheboygan Lutheran High School barred him from giving the valedictorian speech because he was planning to come out as gay during the speech. The Valor award recognizes leaders who “have overcome great challenges to be their best, true and most authentic selves,” according to the official website.

At the opening ceremony, Werth talked about how his family didn’t approve of him being gay and how he was surrounded by students and teachers at Sheboygan Lutheran “who perpetuated a culture of homophobia and intolerance.”

“I know that I’m one of the lucky ones when it comes to coming out, and it pains me to know that people continue to be hurt in situations much more dire than mine,” Werth said.

He examined the six passages of the Bible that talked about homosexuality and found that God does not hate gay people and that claims about how the passages invalidate homosexuality are either outdated, mistranslated or misinterpreted. In fact, depending on the translation, the bible mentions love over 500 times. Werth said that Jesus was constantly demanding change in the church and that his followers practice tolerance toward other cultures and races.

“I sincerely believe that it is the duty of the church to eradicate homophobia and to proclaim God’s love to the LGBT community,” Werth said.

Werth said that the Wisconsin School Choice Program allocates funding for financial aid for students in private schools and requires participating schools to follow nondiscrimination guidelines, give students the option to take religious classes and give students the opportunity to speak with the board of directors if they like. Werth said that despite being in the program, Sheboygan Lutheran doesn’t follow any of these guidelines. Werth will meet with the Department of Public Instruction to address and correct this.

“The school has illegally misused tax dollars to force their beliefs on non-Lutheran students,” said Werth.

He stressed that he did not want to get revenge on the school. Rather, he wants to use his voice to create change and speak up for those who can’t.

“My advice to anyone trapped by their circumstance is to know that there is nothing wrong with you,” said Werth. “Know that speaking up can cause change to take place. Know that the best revenge is smiling and moving on. But most importantly, know that you are not alone.”

Milwaukee County Executive and Victory Fund Chair Chris Abele promised to personally pay to fly Werth to New York for the World Pride Reception and Parade and promised him a slot for the Victory Fund’s candidate training program.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced at the opening ceremony that the Rainbow Pride Flag will be flown over the Wisconsin State Capitol for the first time in the history of the state. The flag will fly for the entire month of June, as Urban Milwaukee reported.

“I’m so proud to be part of an administration that, for the first time in a very long time, understands the importance of equality,” Barnes said. “You have my word that I will continue to use my office and my position to fight hate however it manifests… You have an ally in the highest offices of state government and I promise you that we will continue to be active in the fight for full equality and equity.”

Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa reminded people of how LGBT members of the State Legislature, including herself, rolled out a record number of bills to improve the quality of life for LGBT Wisconsinites as part of the Equality Agenda. Some of the bills include banning conversion therapy, eliminating the gay and trans “panic” defense, and updating Wisconsin’s statutes and constitution to recognize marriage equality and prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

Mayor Tom Barrett said that he used the fact that Milwaukee scored 100 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, which measures how inclusive a city’s laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ people, when vying for the Democratic National Convention to be held in Milwaukee next year.

“Many of the people that were making the decisions – they didn’t understand this community,” Barrett said. “And I was able to say, filled with pride, that our community has achieved a score of 100 percent. You should feel the same pride.”

The festival honored the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots occurring on June 28, 1969, as chronicled by the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project’s exhibit at the festival. On that day at 1 a.m., police raided the Stonewall Inn, the only bar in New York that allowed men to dance together. As people refused to comply with the police and resisted arrest and as the police grew more forceful and violent, the raid turned into a full blown riot with the crowd growing to over 500. The battle went on for 45 minutes and it took until 4 a.m. to clear the streets. Despite being trashed, Stonewall Inn opened the next night and thousands of people gathered. Many regard the riot to be the catalyst for the modern pride movement. The first pride marches were held one year later in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to mark the one year anniversary of the movement.

“We honor and we simply say thank you to those brave people that refused to stand aside and let people tell them how they were going to live,” said Milwaukee Pride President Wes Shaver during opening ceremonies. “They simply said ‘Enough!'”

“Stonewall is a story of those who came before us and let their voices be heard – those that bravely stood up and spoke out so that others wouldn’t feel compelled to live in silence,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who couldn’t make it to the festival but prepared a video message for the opening ceremony.

The fest announced that this year’s event broke attendance records for the seventh consecutive year with 45,787 people attending. Last year’s PrideFest drew 45,400 people, a 21 percent increase over the year before according to the official website. That makes PrideFest the largest pride event ever held in Wisconsin according to the website.

“It’s a place where color is seen as nothing more than vibrancy, where physical differences, ethnicity and our individualities are simply equal,” Shaver said about the fest. “Right here we are all the same and we will always be the same.”

Check out our photos of the fest below. Be sure to check out photos of last year’s PrideFest as well.

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