Bolstered by great headline acts and decent weather, Milwaukee’s PrideFest achieved another year of record-breaking attendance. Except for an uncomfortably long delay in bringing opening night headliner Kathy Griffin onstage, the event ran smoothly – no small feat given that it’s organized and staffed entirely by volunteers.
PrideFest also deserves praise for including so many LGBT performers in its line-up. Pride festivals provide these entertainers an essential way of connecting with old fans and gaining new ones, yet too many such events, including Chicago’s, overlook them.
Unfortunately PrideFest also showed how tragically far these events have come from their activist roots. Glaringly missing from the three days of festivities was a political presence. This is a pivotal election year, and PrideFest organizers missed an enormous opportunity to help inform and mobilize a constituency that has a great deal riding on what happens in the state’s voting booths in November.
The few political organizations that did show up at PrideFest were nearly hidden behind the vendors’ market. Rainbow coffee mugs and wrist bands are dandy, but they’re empty gestures when the movement they symbolize is missing.
Go to pridefest.com, click on the “entertainment and activities” bar, then scroll down the list of venues and click on “history exhibit.” You’ll find a blank page. This stunning omission is a slap in the face to the courage and sacrifice that made events like PrideFest possible.
If PrideFest wants to make its event relevant to the LGBT civil rights movement, its organizers have created an effective model with the Health and Wellness Area. This forum brings prospective clients, volunteers and contributors into direct contact with LGBT-focused service organizations, including the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Diverse and Resilient, AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and BestD Clinic.
These organizations attract thousands of visitors by presenting their programs in lively, creative ways. They pass out vital health information and offer referrals to community resources. More than 600 people received HIV tests this year.
Politically focused groups deserve the same opportunity to utilize PrideFest’s visibility.