Fayette County

More than drag and rainbow flags: Pridefest honors successes, ongoing struggles

Lexington Pride Festival is a ‘community-involved and inspired event’

Sarah Brown, marketing director of the 2019 Lexington Pride Festival encourages people to come to the event for more than just the entertainment.
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Sarah Brown, marketing director of the 2019 Lexington Pride Festival encourages people to come to the event for more than just the entertainment.

With an extra day, more entertainment, more booths and an attendance expected to significantly exceed last year’s turnout of 32,000, the 2019 Lexington Pride Festival promises to be bigger and splashier than ever.

Pandora Boxx will be the co-headliner Saturday night at Pridefest. Adam Tyler

Yes, there will be wisecracking drag queens — including Pandora Boxx of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fame — and solemn drag kings at Pridefest. There will be club kids, preppy A-listers and sexy senior citizens. There will be the fancy free and the married couples with children. There will be loud music and laughter, drinking and dancing, two-stepping and twerking. There will be seas of rainbow Pride flags, Pride tee-shirts, Pride buttons, bangles and bows.

Thousands of attendees filled N. Limestone Street during Lexington Pride Festival 2018 Saturday at courthouse plaza in Lexington. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

But in that ocean of fun there will be a serious undercurrent. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City and the 20th anniversary of the Lexington Fairness Ordinance, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, this year’s Pridefest is poised to serve as a reminder that the rights and freedoms enjoyed by today’s LGBTQ community had to be fought for, literally and figuratively.

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An interview with Ernesto Scorsone is part of the “Our Fair City” exhibit at the Lexington Public Library on the passing of the Fairness Ordinance 20 years ago. Kevin Nance

Those anniversaries — each recalled in separate exhibitions at the Lexington Public Library, just across from the Pridefest site on Courthouse Square, through July 19 — also underscore that the fight is not yet over on local, state and federal fronts, such as the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to bar transgendered people from serving in the armed forces.

“We’re seeing Pride events in other cities experiencing significantly larger attendance this year,” Pridefest vice chair Carmen Wampler-Collins says. “Whether it’s because things really have changed for the better, or in reaction to the political environment we’re living in — the situation of trans people in the military, the fear that our civil rights might be rolled back — we aren’t sure. Maybe it’s both.”

Photos from the Lexington Pride Festival through the years. Music: https://www.bensound.com

And for all their happiness at events like Pridefest, local LGBTQ youth still face real challenges because of their sexuality, says Wampler-Collins, who works with teens and young adults at Lexington’s Pride Center. “Kentucky is certainly no easy place to live as an LGBTQ person in many areas,” she says. “It’s true that things are a lot better now, but it’s still not uncommon for the kids to deal with a lot of oppression, including being rejected by their parents.”

That’s part of why Pridefest marketing chair Sarah Brown is encouraging this year’s revelers to tear themselves away from the performance stages on occasion to sample a broad spectrum of offerings by Pridefest and its partner groups, including some that highlight the struggles and sacrifices of earlier generations of gays, lesbians and others of non-conforming sexuality and gender identity.

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Pridefest marketing chair says the performers are a big draw but the festival hopes to be a community outreach vehicle as well. Kevin Nance

“At the festival, we have a lot going on every year, and entertainment is always a big draw, but we want it (to be) so much more than that,” Brown says. “We want people to come and explore, and understand, and feel welcome. That’s what Lexington Pride Festival is all about.”

The entertainers themselves — including Betty Who, Johnathan Celestin and Shadina, a Maryland-based R&B singer whose appearances at Pride festivals in several cities around the country this season have earned her the title of “the Queen of Pride” — share that sense of mission.

These are excerpts from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council public meeting on July 1, 1999, the first reading of the Fairness Ordinance.

“There’s still a stigma on being gay,” says Shadina, who’s headlining Pridefest’s Friday concert lineup after a well-received performance at last year’s festival. “As a straight woman, I’m trying to bridge that gap between straight and gay people at Pride events, because this is just about people coming together and enjoying one another. There’s too many other things going on in the world to be worried about people’s sexuality. Pride means love is love, and God loves us all.”

Erica Ulman, of Lexington, center, performed with the March Madness Marching Band during Lexington Pride Festival 2018 Saturday at courthouse plaza in Lexington. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

The Lexington Pride Festival

When: 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday

Where: Courthouse Square, Main and Limestone

Tickets: Free music, activities and kids entertainment. Food and drink for purchase.

Online: Lexpridefest.org

Call: 859-253-3233

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