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5 Questions With...

Evergreen Association’s Justin Azzarella, Associate Vice President for Community Development and Theresa Woehrel, Association Director of PR

Artvoice: What is the best thing about working on the Pride Festival?

Justin Azzarella: For me, Sunday at Canalside, seeing 15,000 people smiling and having a good time. Every year I tend to meet younger members of the LGBTQ community and it’s their first pride and I see them feeling very accepted and comfortable and hopeful. The youth in our community today are so much more comfortable with being gay and that gives me a lot of hope. Only 14 years ago I came out and I’m openly gay but there are still times when I catch myself closeting myself, publicly, so it’s nice to know that events like this exists for everyone can come out and feel comfortable and live out loud.

Theresa Woehrel: This is my third pride working with Justin. To see how much its grown, to see how much the community and political climate has changed is so exciting. The event has expanded, support has grown, the parade has more than doubled its size and I’d love to see how many national and corporate organizations are not only in the parade but basically beating down our doors to participate. It’s important for them to identify their brand with our cause and thats so great to see.

AV: How have you seen the Pride Festival Change since it first began 23 years ago?

JA: The original parade consisted of only about 15 people walking from a gay bar called Buddies down to City Hall. They just kind of got off their bar stools and went. Not only do we have thousands of people coming out for the parade, but we’ve really become part of the summer social culture. I make sure I make it out for Pride just like I make sure I never miss the St. Patrick’s parade on Delaware. We now see lots of allies, all sorts of culture just comes out to party with us.

AV: Do you have a favorite Pride Week Memory?

JA: Last year we just finished the Gay 5k and we walked by Jim’s Steakout. I was dying to see if we had made the cover of Artvoice, we had never done that before and low and behold I run outside screaming and pick it up and theres Latrice Royale right on the front page. It made me feel like we made it in the main stream. Were so excited that you are featuring Pride again.

AV: How would you describe Buffalo’s Gay Community?

JA: Its funny because I think you could ask any gay person in any city and you’re going to get a similar answer: Its so small and people here are in cliques. Part of it is; by definition, theres fewer of us. Is Buffalo a bit more conservative than San Francisco or New York City? Sure, but in terms of being open as a gay man here, I’ve never had a problem. I think the community as a whole is very accepting as long as you trust yourself. I’ve watched members of this community rally around people who are sick and people who are moving up in careers, and networking.

AV: What Pride Week Event are you most excited about?

TW: The 5k is a really great time. I’m biased because I plan all the events. I also love the Allenstreet Festival. It brings out local entertainment and it’s a street party that has all your friends are coming out for the summer feel.

JA: Its a tie between the 5k and Canalside for me. Canalside is just so monumental. The first year we did it there was bad weather. We got a lot of negative feedback from people telling us it was not a safe place for gay people and that no one would turn out. Then we just watched thousands of people coming over the cross bridge at Canalside. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Watching that happen every year is so exciting. Canalside is really one of those places that everyone in the community feels comfortable congregating, you see people of all ages and ethnicities. I see people there comfortable holding hands enjoying the city together. You wouldn’t have seen even two years ago.

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