Put any large group of people in a room and, after awhile, they’re likely to disagree on something. And if you add one of the three often cited “forbidden” topics in so-called polite society — religion, politics or sex — the disagreement is likely to become a heated one.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Cincinnati’s Gay Pride Festival this year is causing quite a commotion.
An event designed to celebrate the rich diversity in human sexual expression, Pride always has pressed some people’s buttons — usually those close-minded straight folks who would prefer that anyone not like themselves be neither seen nor heard, thank you very much.
This year, however, the discord is brewing among the local LGBTQ community itself. That’s because Pride is now being organized by the Greater Cincinnati Gay Chamber of Commerce after several years of dutiful service by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Cincinnati.
CityBeat first reported on the switch in January (see “A Growing Sense of Pride”). Changes wrought by the chamber include moving the festival’s primary events from Hoffner Park in Northside to downtown’s Fountain Square, and shifting the once-weeklong festival from mid-June to the holiday weekend of July 2-4.
As mentioned in the earlier article, some Northside bar owners were upset about the move and said they weren’t consulted; a few said they make between 30-40 percent of their annual profits during the crowded event and the loss could eventually put them out of business.
Chamber leaders replied, “Pride belongs to the city, and no individuals own the event. It belongs to everyone.” Moreover, they added, someone had to make the commitment to take over the event as the Gay and Lesbian Community Center was relinquishing it due to a lack of volunteer help.
As a result, the popular annual parade will be held downtown this year. Beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday, marchers and floats will traverse a six-block-long path on Fifth Street. In an effort at inclusion, a pub crawl will begin at 9 p.m. Friday and involve 19 bars in various neighborhoods on both sides of the Ohio River. The $10 fee includes shuttle service between the locations.
The centerpiece event, the Equinox Ball, will be held Saturday night at the Duke Energy Convention Center. The posh extravaganza features dance club queen Kristine W. and DJ Escape. Tickets cost $50 in advance and $60 at the door.
Some people, though, believe the whole festival has become too commercialized.
A Facebook page entitled “Make Your Voice Heard for an Inclusive Cincinnati Pride!” was recently launched and already has 150 followers.
Begun by local activists including JAC Stringer of the Black Mondays Drag King Troupe, it wants festival organizers to offer activities that appeal to a broader range of clientele besides just young, affluent white men who like to party.
The movement especially wants to see more free events for people from low-income neighborhoods.
“We come from different communities, different identities, different backgrounds, but we are all in this together,” the page states. “Equinox Cincinnati does not support or represent our diverse community. They are focused on building business not resources. We have been repeatedly banned from their Facebook pages for trying to start a dialogue.”
Stringer elaborates on the issues on his Midwest GenderQueer blog, where he discusses a conversation with Pride Chairman George Crawford, a gay business owner and Chamber member.
“The queer community is not made up of businesses and their owners, its made up of everyday people,” Stringer wrote.
“Crawford repeated words like ‘image,’ ‘profit,’ ‘income’ and ‘reputation’ – something very relevant to a business making money, but not very relevant to a community in need of resources.”
As an example of the new Pride’s allegedly exclusionary policies, Stringer cites several types of performers who wanted to be included but were rebuffed, including Maxx Lixgood, founder of a well-known Hip Hop drag troupe.
“They aren’t advertising to black people or low-income drag kings,” Maxx said about Equinox, “We’re urban, they don’t care about us. They don’t want me or my people, and this isn’t just me. This is how our community feels. Black people aren’t gonna go to Pride.”
In fact, several drag kings, burlesque performers and other entertainers said they had trouble getting information about signing up for the event or their inquiries were ignored.
“One (person) suggested that the Gay Chamber of Commerce (was) using (a) business model which would automatically lead to less transparency and a more PR-oriented method,” Stringer wrote. “It is clear to me that this is indeed the case. When a nonprofit was running things, all meetings were open and it was well advertised who organizers were.
“From a business standpoint, you hide all negative feedback about your product so people will think it is perfect ... No matter how consumer-based Pride becomes, it is about community, not cost, it is about Pride, not products.”
Some festival participants take umbrage at the criticism.
Randy Bridges, owner of On Broadway bar and a grand marshal in this year’s parade, published a public response praising the chamber’s efforts.
“They stepped up to the plate and, man, what a great Pride,” he wrote. “So many firsts for Cincinnati. Pride banners down Fifth Street, the mayor leading the parade, corporate sponsors, national entertainers, 19-bar pub crawl and too many (others) to mention … All the moaning and groaning and bitching (from critics). But funny, I haven’t seen any of these folks at any of the Pride meetings.”
Crawford also recently responded.
“I said to JAC that I was aware we weren’t as thorough as we would liked to have been in disseminating information and we need to do a better job of that,” Crawford wrote.
Because of scheduling conflicts on Fountain Square, little time was left for entertainment acts, he added.
“We still only had the ability to book four hours of entertainment, unlike the entire day of lineup like in years past,” Crawford wrote. “Not the best of situations but a growing pain and another lesson learned. We reached out and booked one out-of-town act to headline the entertainment stage. All other entertainment on the stage approached us about performing and were given time slots on a first-come, first-served basis. At no time was anyone ever told that we are not booking local acts on our stage.”
Meanwhile, Northside merchants are planning an all-volunteer Pride event there for Aug. 7. It will include comedy shows at Mayday, a rally at Hoffner Park and various performers.
This being Cincinnati, there’s no doubt some hateful ultra-conservative types reading this and thinking, “Ha, those catty little divas can’t agree on anything.” For those people (and you know who you are): Blow it out your ear and go find the nearest Tea Party.
In reality, these types of conflicts usually occur while planning any large event. Pride has some major growing pains and, like Cincinnati’s gay community generally, needs to make more of an effort to include different faces in the mix.
This isn’t a gay problem or a straight problem; it’s a human problem. And like most human problems, it needs more communication to help solve it before next year’s event.
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