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by Bryan James Whitley
Pride. One simple five-letter word with so many meanings behind it. Civic pride. Ethnic pride. Pride in one’s community. These are all values that most Buffalonians hold in high esteem. So why is it that we celebrate Pride every June? Because we can.
I recently spoke with several community members and activists to present a picture of the diversity and common bonds that make Pride Buffalo such a success each year. I spoke with my elders, my colleagues and my fellow performers to discuss how this year’s festival affects their lives. Most of all, I wanted to hear why Pride was important to them and how this year’s theme is representative of so many within our community.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities of Western New York band together for one weekend a year to celebrate a civic, social and communal bond that unites us all as LGBT people. “Pride is needed for the same reasons that we have an Italian or Hellenic festival and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Pride is a celebration of Buffalo’s LGBT community and an opportunity for everyone in WNY to honor the many wonderful and diverse aspects of who we are,” said Shannon Anderson, President of the Board of Directors of Pride Buffalo, Inc., the festival and parade all-volunteer planning organization. “My favorite part of the day comes from walking around through the crowd during the festival and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. It’s also nice to stand on the stage and look out across the crowd of thousands in Bidwell Parkway. It gives me goose bumps every year!”
While sexual identity is but a small part of most of our daily lives, it is an important part of the diversity that makes us American—something we long to celebrate during this time of year. According to Camille Hopkins, a post-operative transgender woman and the grand marshal for this year’s Pride Buffalo parade, “Buffalo is not always like larger cities where it is easier to be open about who you are. Although the culture here in Buffalo has become more accepting of LGBT people, there still exists a conservative mindset here. Pride encourages people to embrace and celebrate their true selves.
“My first Pride was here in Buffalo in 1999. At the time, I was President of the Buffalo Belles and I wanted to set up a table at the Pride event because we had never had a transgender presence in the past,” added Hopkins. “I was amazed at the energy and how wonderful everyone was feeling, I knew this is where I wanted to be and haven’t missed a year since. As the grand marshal, I have a responsibility for encouraging LGBT people to be out and proud of who they are. I hope to inspire other LGBT people to declare their right to be who they are. It all comes down to an authentic life.”
Entertainment is a huge part of the draw for the crowd that usually numbers more than 5,000 people each year. Everything from comedians to drag queens to acoustic rock and experimental performance is on stage this year, to bring a truly unique flavor to Pride 2007. “I am honored to be performing at Pride in my hometown” said Kendall Kelley, one of this year’s headliners on the main stage. Kendall has been an openly gay singer, songwriter, and entertainer for over a decade and travels around the US and Canada performing at LGBT festivals and events. “I love Buffalo and am proud to be here, not just as a gay man but as a person who believes that the area has a lot of possibilities and untapped resources.”
Since the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, each year across America groups of LGBT Americans have stood up proudly and celebrated this diversity and their right to be proud of who they are. “There are still so many of us who carry the burden of fear and poor self-esteem. Pride instills hope in those people who watch us standing tall, laughing, smiling at ourselves and each other. It awakens a sneaking-suspicion that they might be worthy of love in a difficult world too,” said Madeline Davis, local activist, author and director of the Buffalo GLBT Archives. Davis was in her first Pride Parade in NYC in 1971, as LGBT people took to the streets in the city to ensure that no one forgot the riots of the year before and to take a stand against discrimination in all its forms.
“My first Pride march,” Davis recalls, “we marched from Central Park to the Village in New York City. I had the honor of performing with a wonderful group of new activists, singers and drag performers who finally had a very public place in which to affirm themselves and their love. It was a powerful experience that I will never forget.”
Buffalo has always been a hotbed of LGBT social movement, from its early days housing an extensive network of LGBT bars and nightclubs. Buffalo also had one of the first chapters of Mattachine Society, an early gay consciousness raising organization whose primary goal was to bring about public acceptance of LGBT persons. An afternoon with the Rainbow Elders of WNY shows how the city has always been a hotbed of social activism and housed a vibrant, while often-invisible, LGBT community and culture.
“We need to show our pride. Certainly, it is important to feel it but we need our hometown to see it, too,” said Danny Winter, a.k.a. Vicky Vogue, one of Buffalo’s brightest stars and community leaders. “It is truly a liberating experience and we get a unique thrill that is indescribable.” Winter has been a staple in the Buffalo drag scene for several decades, and still remains a leader and active voice on behalf of the community, meeting with police and city officials to foster greater understanding and increase protection for the area’s LGBT communities. “I hope that I am a positive role model for the LGBT youth in Buffalo. I have always tried to stand tall—the wig helps—so that young folks will point and say ‘There’s Vicky!’ as I march by with a smile on my face. And, while at 73 I am not getting hitched anytime soon, when legislation like same-sex marriage passes, I can be proud of all my years fighting for gay rights.”
This year’s Pride Buffalo theme, “Happily Ever After, Legal or Not,” is a celebration of LGBT families and a reminder that the issue of equal marriage rights for New Yorkers is not going away. “I would like to have the same rights in my relationship with the person I love that my straight friends, family and colleagues have,” said Anderson. “I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to try to get close to the same legal protections that married couples get for practically free. I believe that every citizen deserves the same legal protections.”
With Governor Spitzer authorizing a bill to bring to the State Legislature that would remove the barriers to same-sex couples and legalize their marriages, it was a lucky occurrence that this year’s Pride Buffalo theme is so relevant and current. Davis and her partner Wendy have been “married” four times. “A civil union in Vermont, a Kiddushin at Temple Beth Zion, a ritual with Spiderwoman Coven and a marriage in Niagara Falls, Ontario. We are looking forward to a New York State marriage to give us at least the local legal recognition that we deserve.”
Todd Plank, Legislative Advocate/Field Organizer for the NYCLU/ACLU of WNY, added, “I don’t want people to become complacent in the battle for same-sex marriage. I do believe that it is important for us to refuse to allow government or society to rob us of our happiness and self-esteem.”
The Pride Center of WNY is sponsoring an outdoor display of Equal Measure: Portraits of Love, a statewide project of Empire State Pride Agenda that uses photos to document LGBT families, same-sex couples and their allies. “Having visual images of real families humanizes the issues around marriage equality,” said Lynn Siradas, photographer of the exhibit. “Being allowed in to take pictures of these courageous people has put faces on the discussion of marriage equality. They help us see whom we are talking about. They are real people, real families with the same joys, challenges and day-to-day lives as most other couples, but still the legitimacy of their love, parenthood and commitment is often questioned, judged and ridiculed.”
As another part of the celebration, the Pride Center will offer a month of workshops and events highlighting the diverse and rich LGBT culture and talent within WNY, starting with a one-night only read through of Matthew Crehan Higgins’s play Making Gay History at the Main Street Cabaret. Tickets are $10 dollars and benefit the Pride Center. Before the Dyke March on Saturday, join local author Madeline Davis as she reads from her book, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community, at the Pride Center from 5-6pm. Then it’s off to the Dyke March and Rally at Bidwell Park at 7:30pm to party before the big day.
Sunday, June 3, 2007, the Pride Buffalo Parade steps off from Kleinhans at 1pm and winds its way down Elmwood Avenue to the festival location at Bidwell Parkway (east of Elmwood), where the party continues into the evening. Entertainment includes local singer/songwriter extraordinaire Kendall, drag divas Fanta-See Island and Keke Valasquez-Lord, lesbian comic Kristen Becker and a special performance by the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus. Hosting this year’s festival are none other than Channel 7’s John Borsa and Julie Fine. Also on the main stage are out of town musical acts Jennifer Corday and Levi Kreis.
Pride Buffalo offers so many things—like a Children’s Tent where the kids or whole family can take part in an assortment of activities in a safe supervised space. If you need a break from the crowds, saunter on into the Pride Buffalo Cocktail Pavilion and enjoy music, dancing and a refreshing beverage. There is something for everyone, and the resourcefulness and openness of Elmwood Village residents around the site always brings out unexpected fun. For more information and up-to-date listings check the new and improved Gaywatch page in Artvoice, sponsored by the Pride Center of WNY, or the Community Calendar at www.pridecenterwny.org.
Bryan James Whitley, MA is Executive Director of Pride Center of Western New York, Inc.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v6n22: Bet You Can't Stop At One! (5/31/07) > Pride Buffalo
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