Cover Story: Pride Thrives

Cincinnati's GLBT festival that refused to die

Jun 8, 2005 at 2:06 pm
John Pennell (right) hangs with Harold Keutzer and Marakah Nystrom-Mancini at the Pride Alive kickoff event June 3 at Yadda Club.

If you thought there was nothing to celebrate in the struggle for sexual equality, consider this: Greater Cincinnati is now a leader in the cause of gay and lesbian pride. That alone justifies the spectacle that will take over Ludlow and Hamilton avenues this weekend.

Cincinnati has had a Pride Festival for about 15 years. That's one sign of a strong gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community. But a stronger sign still is the fact that the festival won't miss a beat, although Cincinnati Pride, which founded and sustained the festival for a decade and a half, disbanded last fall. The festival appears this year as the work of a whole new group of activists and volunteers.

Across the nation and across the state of Ohio, voters in 2004 approved measures against same-sex marriage, and an anti-equality backlash was a factor in the presidential election. But the city of Covington recently enacted a human rights ordinance forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation, and voters in Cincinnati repealed the anti-gay Article 12 in the city charter. Greater Cincinnati is thus bucking the national trend toward a repression of individual rights.

"Pride Alive" is more than a catchy name for the organization behind the annual pride festival Saturday and Sunday.

The phrase also captures a momentum characterized by the support of such corporate behemoths as Delta and Procter & Gamble, which are festival sponsors.

The un-burnout
Cincinnati Pride didn't break up for want of success. The festival grew larger and more popular each year. Burnout was the problem, according to a farewell message last fall from Ken Colegrove, chair of the organization.

"Although the Cincinnati Pride Celebration has grown to be the largest event in the local GLBT community, it remains one that is planned and executed by less than 10 dedicated volunteers," Colegrove said. "We now find ourselves burned out, and rather than compromise the integrity of the event we prefer instead to leave it behind while we are still on top."

But Colegrove expressed the hope that others would pick up the baton, and that's exactly what happened.

"The old committee, which went by the name Cincinnati Pride, resigned and dispersed in September 2004," says John Pennell, co-chair of Pride Alive. "We got an e-mail saying, 'We're disbanding and Pride is dead in Cincinnati.' Literally close to 30 businesses and organizations got together once a month since then and orchestrated the new group, Pride Alive. Basically we've tried to photocopy what they've done in the past."

Well, sort of. Fact is, Pride Alive won't be presenting some last-minute, done-the-best-we-could event. This year's pride festival will be larger than last year's, which had been the largest to date.

"Due to the repeal of Article 12 in last year's election, we've gotten a wonderful response from around the state and even around the country, so this year's festival is actually expected to be a little bit bigger," Pennell says. "Last year they estimated they had 6,000 to 8,000 people. This year we're projecting between 10,000 and 12,000."

The annual festival fills Hoffner Park in Northside. This year it will spill over into adjacent streets.

"We are expanding into two of the streets next to Hoffner Park, which gives us 25 percent more space," Pennell says.

The Pride Parade on Sunday will also be extended. Instead of turning on Blue Rock Road, the parade route continues to Chase Avenue, ending at Chase Elementary School.

Parking concerns last year have led to a free shuttle bus this year. You can park at Burnett Woods, march to the festival with the parade and take a shuttle back to your car.

Given the grim prospects for a 2005 festival last fall, its continued growth can only mean the GLBT community in Cincinnati is strong.

"We literally started with no name, no event and no money," Pennell says. "They didn't let Pride die. It has been just incredible."

Indeed organizers this year face the question of whether the festival can handle any more growth.

"One of the biggest concerns is that we not outgrow the space, but eventually it's going to happen," Pennell says.

Life after Peaches
The breakup of Cincinnati Pride wasn't the only heartbreak the GLBT community faced last year. There was also the passing of Peaches Laverne, the city's best-known female impersonator. She died in November 2004 at age 79, and with her passing the Pride Parade lost its grand marshal.

That honor goes this year to civil rights attorney Scott Knox, selected from a field of some two dozen nominees.

"Kind of like The Bachelor, we put out a call to the community for nominations," Pennell says.

The Millennium Hotel downtown hosts a Grand Marshal's Reception at 8-11 p.m. Friday and is the official hotelier for the Pride Festival, which has a regional draw.

"They've blocked off a group of rooms for us," Pennell says. "We've done everything we can to try to include Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana, since those areas don't have a pride festival of their own. It's a two-day event, which is rather rare in Ohio."

Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and Covington Mayor Butch Butch Callery attended a Pride rally June 1 on Fountain Square.

When Cincinnati Pride dissolved, it donated its remaining funds to a nonprofit organization, leaving its successor to start from scratch. Fund-raisers have netted $28,000 for this year's festival, Pennell says.

The theme of this year's events is "Free to Be Me."

"It's playing off the repeal of Article 12, which thankfully has made it possible for us to be who we are in Cincinnati," he says. "We need to celebrate who we are, not just what we are. There are political agendas out there, but Gay Pride Month is a celebration of who we are and what we accomplished in the past 100 years."

The PRIDE ALIVE FESTIVAL is 4-10 p.m. Saturday and 1-7 p.m. Sunday at Hoffner Park in Northside. The Pride Festival Parade begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Burnett Woods in Clifton and follows Ludlow Avenue to Northside, where it continues on Hamilton Avenue. For a full entertainment schedule, visit