Lexington's Pride Festival returns to downtown for a second year, and amid the more than 50 booths, food vendors and standard festival fare like a Velcro wall, there will be a message.
The festival will highlight the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It was June 27, 1969, when New York police raided a popular Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Such raids where common, said Jeff Jones, author of Hidden Histories, Proud Communities: Multiple Narratives in the Queer Geographies of Lexington.
At that time, laws prohibited the sale of alcohol to gays and lesbians. It wasn't unusual for cops to raid a bar, rouse the patrons and arrest the employees. Usually the crowds complied and went home.
But that night at Stonewall, someone threw a bottle, and a fracas erupted. The crowd fought back the first night against police in riot gear. During the next several days, an unusual protest evolved. Drag queens also took to the street, chanting along to choreographed kick lines.
But, Jones said, the core of the message was that some fundamental rights must be given to people regardless of their sexuality.
At the time, that was a startling stance to take.
"It really was a major event in the history of the gay and lesbian rights movement," said Ann Malcolm, chair of Lexington's Pride Festival committee.
The news of the Stonewall riots spread as quickly as it could in those pre-Internet days, Jones said, and it inspired action even thousands of miles from Greenwich Village.
Central Kentucky had long had a lively gay scene that was focused on entertainment. There are tales of drag parties going back to the 1920s, he said. A flamboyant drag queen named James "Sweet Evening Breeze" Herndon was a Lexington legend until his death in 1983. Lexington's first gay bar, The Gilded Cage, opened in 1963.
But after Stonewall, Jones said, an activist bent took hold among some in Lexington's gay community.
"It just changed a lot of the dynamics," he said.
And in the years following the riots, a gay and lesbian rights movement took root in Central Kentucky. It grew in an atmosphere that took the passion of the anti- authority hippie and civil rights movements and shifted them in a new direction.
A group called the Gay Liberation Front became active at the University of Kentucky in 1971, he said. Later the Gay Services Organization was formed. It then expanded into the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which is instrumental in organizing the Lexington Pride Festival.
There will be an exhibit at the festival explaining what happened at Stonewall.
"The younger generation doesn't really know about Stonewall," Malcolm said. "It's important for people to know the history and where it all started. Without Stonewall, we wouldn't be able to have a festival.
"The best way to honor Stonewall is to move forward from it."
Last year was the first year for Lexington's Pride Festival was held downtown. Previously, it had been on picnic on private property. "People were afraid of being seen," she said.
And perhaps what's noticeable about the festival this year is that while it is an event with a message, it's also like many other celebrations. There will be fair food and bouncy contraptions for the kids. People will dance and chat and reconnect with people they haven't seen in a while.
"Last year went beautifully," Malcolm said. "We were expecting only a few hundred people, and we had several thousand.
"This year we are anticipating a larger crowd than last year."