June 17, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Record turnout for Pride

Capital Pride’s parade June 12 featured 175 contingents — the most ever for the event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A record-breaking 175 contingents in last weekend’s Capital Pride parade and about 250,000 people at the street festival the next day showed the world how “wonderfully diverse we are as a community,” according to the event’s lead organizer.

Dyana Mason, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance, the non-profit group that organized Washington’s 35th annual LGBT Pride events, called the festivities a “great success.”

“It was wonderfully diverse and had a true cross section of our community,” she said. “It was just wonderful to see everybody from Results Gym to Rainbow Families D.C. to faith communities to the leather contingent. Everybody was there and just being themselves.”

As in past years, the parade’s lead contingent was the lesbian motorcycle group Dykes on Bikes. And a short distance behind them, a contingent of the city’s elected officials joined the parade.

Among them were Mayor Adrian Fenty and his chief rival in the September Democratic primary, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

Others included D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and gay D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who also are up for re-election this year.

They were joined by Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Kwame Brown (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Also marching in the parade was former D.C. Parks & Recreation director and gay City Council candidate Clark Ray, who is challenging Mendelson in the September primary.

The politicians, including Fenty and Gray, appeared to be well received as they passed large crowds along a parade route that stretched from 24th and P streets, N.W., around Dupont Circle to the gay enclave along 17th Street.

From there, the parade turned east on P Street, where it passed the official reviewing stand in front of the Whole Foods supermarket near 15th and P streets before ending on 14th Street at Thomas Circle.

The politicians — all of whom are strong supporters of LGBT civil rights — were quickly followed by colorful floats carrying performing drag queens, shirtless male swim team members, gym enthusiasts riding exercise machines, and country western dancers performing the two-step.

Capital Pride officials identified certain contingents as winners of Capital Pride’s annual parade awards: Ziegfeld’s/Secrets nightclub took the Cher Award for Best Theme/Energy; Results Gym captured the Tina Turner Award for Best Float; D.C.’s Different Drummers won the Nancy Sinatra Award for Best Marching Contingent; G Worldwide Resorts earned the Dame Edna Award for Best Visiting Contingent; and Fuego gay bar received the Liberace Award for Most Outrageous.

Also receiving loud applause and cheers along the parade route were the contingents and cars carrying this year’s Capital Pride heroes and super heroes, who were selected for their longtime support for LGBT-related causes.

Among them was Deacon Maccubbin, the former owner of Lambda Rising bookstore who is credited with initiating and organizing the city’s first annual LGBT Pride celebration in 1975.

For many activists, the parade’s route along 17th Street between R and Q streets, N.W., had a special significance this year. On June 10, three days before the parade kick-off, Fenty led a ceremony naming the section of 17th Street between R and Q streets Frank Kameny Way after the nationally recognized D.C. gay civil rights leader.

The ceremony included the unveiling of a newly installed street sign bearing the name Frank Kameny Way, which was visible to parade goers. The street-naming came about through an executive order issued by Fenty.

Kameny, who is credited with founding the city’s gay civil rights movement in the late 1950s, spoke at the ceremony, saying that he could never have predicted the advances in LGBT rights since he was fired in 1957 from his job as a civilian astronomer with the Army Map service because of his sexual orientation.

Joining Fenty in the street naming ceremony was Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Council member whose district includes the newly designated Kameny Way, and gay ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein, who was among the Dupont Circle ANC commissioners that formally requested the street’s designation.

Also speaking at the ceremony was John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Berry noted that OPM’s predecessor agency, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, was the agency that fired Kameny more than 50 years ago for being gay.

“Frank is the perfect storm,” Berry said. “The wall of resistance that he encountered when he challenged his dismissal back in 1957 would have been insurmountable to most people. With no more support than his own brilliant mind and his own powerful lungs, he faced down the United States government.”

Berry noted that over the ensuing decades, Kameny played a key role in guiding the LGBT civil rights movement through battles that ended the government’s ban on civilian gay employees, ended the psychiatric and psychological professions’ classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and lifted the government’s ban on issuing security clearances to gay federal employees and contract workers.

“Frank, for every one of us who walk this street, and I walk it daily, your name up here is going to remind us of the power of one person, the power of persistence,” Berry said. “You have changed the world for the better.”

But on the day of the parade, Fenty and other parade goers passing along 17th Street were greeted by another type of sign: professionally printed poster-sized placards bearing the message “Fenty is M.I.A.”

Gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who is backing Gray in the mayor’s race, said he and others had the signs made and attached them to light poles along the parade route on 17th Street and along the section of P Street where the parade reviewing stand was located.

Hudson said the placards were intended to deliver a message to parade participants that Fenty has been “missing in action” on a number of LGBT-related issues by not speaking out or meeting with members of the community to address those issues. Anti-LGBT hate crimes, LGBT youth matters and the HIV/AIDS fight were among the issues cited by the signs as issues to which Fenty is not devoting enough attention.

Fenty backers dispute those assertions, though, saying the mayor has extensively addressed those issues during his more than three years in office.

The signs Hudson placed on the light poles list a website for obtaining more information on the subject, but it wasn’t operational earlier this week. Hudson said he planned to activate the site soon.

Capital Pride Alliance President Michael Lutz said the June 13 Capital Pride street festival, held along Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between Third and Seventh streets, also appeared to have attracted an unprecedented number of groups, businesses and vendors. Literature released by Capital Pride shows nearly 250 booths lining Pennsylvania Avenue and several side streets.

Among the businesses setting up booths were SunTrust Bank, the Spy Museum, Verizon Wireless, America Online, the New York Times, and the Washington Nationals Baseball Club. Dozens of local and national LGBT organizations also had booths, with many promoting their latest programs and projects.

The intense heat and humidity throughout the day of the street festival was interrupted briefly as rain showers fell for less than five minutes.

Mason credited drag performer Destiny B. Childs with keeping the entertainment going and the crowd pleased from the festival’s main stage during the rain. With the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop looming above the stage, Childs, whose legal name is Richard Legg, staged a show “that was really something to see,” Mason said.

Country western singer Chely Wright, the festival’s headliner performer, closed the program on the main stage to cheering fans. Wright, who came out as lesbian earlier this year in People magazine, recently completed a new album and is promoting an autobiography.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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