September 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Police chief greets crowd at Richmond Pride
Richmond, Virginia, gay pride, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from last year’s Richmond Pride. This year’s event was the largest yet. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va. — Police Chief Ray Tarasovic greeted participants in Richmond’s annual LGBT Pride festival from the event’s main stage on Saturday, Sept. 28, marking the first time the city’s top police official has attended a Pride event.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Tarasovic told the crowd, which organizers said swelled to between 14,000 to 15,000 people throughout the day, a record turnout for the event.

Officially billed as PrideFest 2013, the gathering took place in Kanawha Plaza, a park-like space in downtown Richmond in the shadow of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank building.

Justin Shaia, the PrideFest director, said the plaza became host to 69 booths consisting of a wide range of vendors, including local and national businesses such as Wells Fargo and Capital One banks along with dozens of LGBT and LGBT supportive organizations.

Among the groups hosting booths were Equality Virginia, LGBT Democrats of Virginia, Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network-Richmond Chapter, the ACLU of Virginia and the Gay Community Center of Richmond.

A number of LGBT supportive churches, including the Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, also hosted booths.

Shaia said organizers were proud of the “awesome local and national talent” that performed on stage throughout the day, including popular drag performers.

Prominently displayed at the LGBT Democrats of Virginia booth were campaign posters for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who’s running in a hotly contested race against Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli, the current Virginia attorney general and an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights.

At the Log Cabin Republicans booth, members of the gay GOP group made it clear that the group did not endorse Cuccinelli and chose not to endorse any candidate in the governor’s race.

In addition to Tarasovic, Claire Gastanaga, director of the ACLU of Virginia, greeted the gathering from the stage, saying she was hopeful that an ACLU lawsuit challenging Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would be successful.

Tarasovic, who served as an official with the D.C. Police Department for 15 years, walked through the festival grounds, shaking hands and posing for photos with enthusiastic festival-goers. He noted that at his direction, Richmond police set up a police recruitment table at the festival.

“Diversity is an important part of our community policing effort,” he said.

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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