Celebrate Pride season

Jamakaya, Contributing writer

Woo-hoo, Pride season is again upon us! Time to don our gay apparel and boogie on down to that annual reunion known as PrideFest.

I’m getting to the age where blaring outdoor music doesn’t appeal to me that much, but what I love more than ever is the people-watching. I’m delighted every year to rediscover how many ways there are to be gay. Or, more precisely, to express our gayness.

Cutting edge is too mild and clichéd a term to describe the breadth of LGBT styles. From daring and wacky and weird to jaw-dropping “did you see that?” exoticism, no accoutrements or ornamentation are beyond imagining. Retro or futuristic, butch or femme, leather or feathers, bushy or waxed, overdressed or nearly nude, most queers are certainly not shy about expressing themselves, and PrideFest is the place to do it.

The exuberance and friendliness of people at PrideFest is another plus for me. Everyone is so open, it seems easier to start up conversations and meet new friends there than it does at other places.

The festival also serves as a kind of reunion. I often run into friends I haven’t seen for years – or at least since the last PrideFest – and it’s wonderful to catch up on what’s happening in each others’ lives.

The anti-gay zealots preaching hell and damnation outside the gate have become a regular feature of PrideFest. They used to piss me off, but lately I just think they’re pathetic. Public opinion is rapidly turning against them and they are clearly on the wrong side of history. What kind of person spends whole days spewing hatred at others who are gathered for a celebration of pride and tolerance? Sad.

I’ve had a special weakness for the “drag races” at past PrideFests, which always left me in stitches. Contestants of all genders, sizes, colors and ages don outrageous drag costumes, do their best to run a footrace (those spike heels can be treacherous) and then face off in a lip-synching competition. A more zany, chaotic event has never been devised. Well, not until “Ru Paul’s drag race” anyway.

I’m also a real sucker for the fireworks. Because of the long festival season at the lakefront, Milwaukee has a glut of pyrotechnics. But the fireworks and laser shows at PrideFest have always given me extra goosebumps, I guess in part because they’re “ours” and there are not that many Pride festivals around the country that can boast such a lavish display. I love those moments when the main stage concert is coming to an end, several loud booms are heard and the crowd starts moving en masse to the shoreline to find good seats. Let the “oohs” and “aahs” begin!

Amazingly, this is the 25th anniversary year for PrideFest, which has been at Maier Festival Park since 1996. I’m worried that many of us take the event for granted. PrideFest struggles financially from year to year. Good weather and big crowds in some years sustain it through the years when frigid weather keeps attendance and income down.

We learned recently with the crisis at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center how precarious our institutions are. I’m sure that PrideFest, like the LGBT center, can use some new benefactors and volunteer energy. While enjoying the festival this year, please be cognizant of what a precious resource it is for all of us and consider donating whatever time or money you can.