The Zen of Gay

A cross-cultural and cross-philosophical view of gay pride

Cincinnati is full of gay people. Full. Of. Them.

Gays and lesbians operate at every level on the community, from the bartenders at your favorite Clifton pub to doctors and lawyers in downtown firms. They cook your meals. They connect your calls. They tell you that you look fat in skinny jeans.

It’s just like Fight Club, but with gays.

There’s no better spectacle in which to see GLBT Cincinnati in its full glory than the annual Gay Pride Parade and Festival at Northside’s Hoffner Park. Pride is one of the few events that draws in a staggering number of GLBTers and advocates for an entire weekend of self-celebration.

At its core, Pride is an annual celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people or any person who has different sexual or gender identities. The concept of Pride declares that sexual preference and gender identity are part of a person’s biological make-up and is something to be proud of.

Hence, Pride.

This year’s Pride, though, is unique for Cincinnati and the U.S. The GLBT movement has made a substantial amount of progress since 2008. The U.S. has a president who’s committed to GLBT equality. Six states now allow same-sex couples to marry, four having done so in the last two months: Iowa, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

There’s also a host of local issues in Cincinnati and Ohio dealing with GLBT equality and safety that require more advocacy, such as the Equality Housing and Employment Act at the state level and several attacks on gay citizens in recent months that resulted in large, visible outpourings of community support.

In essence, there’s a lot to celebrate this year, but there’s also a lot of work to do.

CityBeat spoke with GLBT activists, organizers and bloggers — the veritable keepers of the GLBT Kingdom in Cincinnati — to flesh out what how Pride ought to be celebrated and what it should be trying to accomplish within today’s political climate.

Cameron Tolle: founding member and organizer with IMPACT Cincinnati, a grassroots GLBT nonprofit that formed in November shortly after the Propostion 8 rally.

CityBeat: What are some of the best things about Cincinnati Pride?
Cameron Tolle: When the entire community comes together for an event, I think seeing everyone together at the same time gives you a lot of strength in numbers. I think Pride does lend itself to a decent amount of visibility in the wider Cincinnati community, which is really beneficial as well.

CB: Of the things Pride could do, what are some of things you think get left out?
CT: Pride weekend is just one of many things that we as a community should be doing throughout the year, and I’m not sure if that gets emphasized enough. I think people think that they can just show up to Pride, get drunk, go to a parade or whatever and they’ve fulfilled their gay quota in their life for the year. We really should be utilizing Pride … as a way to celebrate our community, but at the same time maybe integrate more activism.

CB: Do you think that Cincinnati Pride is a call for advocacy, a celebration or both?
CT: I think definitely (Pride is) more of a party than activism, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s really important to not only be advocating to people outside of the queer community but to build a really strong unified queer community, and you have a to have a party or two for that to happen.

Daniel Drent: vice president of the executive board for Equality Cincinnati, a Cincinnati GLBT organization that emphasizes education about GLBT issues as a means to affect policy reform in Cincinnati.

CB: What does Pride do for the gay community in Cincinnati?
Daniel Drent: I think Cincinnati’s Pride is kind of unique in a lot of ways. It’s not necessarily this big gay fest per se. It tends to be a lot more family-focused. I think that has to do with where we have our Pride celebration and the (Ludlow Avenue/Hamilton Avenue) parade route. I think it’s really nice … to classify (Pride) as a normal community event, just people who are trying to be like everyone else.

CB: Would you describe Pride as party or a call for advocacy or both?
DD: I think it’s good thing for both. I think everyone is there and having a good time, and it’s clearly a party atmosphere. But at the same time those people are there to let people know we’re here, that there is a thriving gay community in Cincinnati that a lot of people don’t realize there is and that we just want to be accepted. We’re just like everybody else.

CB: What do you think the impetus of this Pride should be?
DD: Pride always has to be a call for advocacy. We have to continue work for what we need. Equality Ohio is working with the folks in Columbus in getting through the Equal Housing and Employment Act, which is a great thing and hopefully we will get that passed and signed by the governor this year. We have along ways to go. Marriage is important, but it’s not No. 1 on my list. We need to make sure that we’re safe at our jobs, that we’re safe in our home, that our kids are safe in school, that they can be prevented from the bullying. We need to make sure that hate crime legislation is in place so we’re safe when we walk the street.

Jamie Royce: journalism student at the University of Cincinnati and author of the GLBT-focused blog, Stuff Queer People Need to Know, one of the most widely read GLBT blogs in Cincinnati (

CB: What are your thoughts on Cincinnati Pride? What should its intention be?
Jamie Royce: Cincinnati Pride has a very long parade route, which I’ve walked before. I walked for the first time last year, and when you’re coming over the bridge on Hamilton Avenue getting into Northside and you see the places you’ve been before but just like covered in people. There are so many people there. This is pretty amazing for Cincinnati. You see how many people actually care. For how little Cincinnati is and how conservative Cincinnati is, the way Pride goes is usually pretty good.

CB: How do you think Cincinnati Pride is significant?
JR: I think that Pride is really a showcase of all of our different kinds of people that we have. We have the more normative-types, we have the flamboyant queens, we have the whole wide range of the queer spectrum. I think that does cause … the community itself to realize “Hey, we’re all different, but we can rally around the same things.”

Barry Floore: head Blogger at QueerCincinnati, one of Cincinnati’s most prolific blogs about LGBT issues at home and around the nation (

CB: How do you feel about Cincinnati Pride?
Barry Floore: It’s fun. I always go. I always have good time. It lacks the draw of a regional crowd. I know it’s trying, but it’s one of the big Prides in the area. At the same time, Cincinnati is a very settled gay community. It’s not the young, disco-fueled Columbus or Chicago. But we have a much more stable community by comparison.

CB: Pride is ostensibly one of the few events in Cincinnati where the entire GLBT community gathers. Should more be getting done?
BF: The reason why we have (other organizations) like IMPACT Cincinnati … is to get these issues and to get these ideas talked about more often than just every June so that people do have pride in their city and do try to make a difference every day as opposed to just one day. The goal has been to start talking about these issues yearround and start bringing them up and making changes.

CB: Do you think that Pride should be more politically focused this year or more celebratory?
BF: Pride itself is a quasi-political, quasi-cultural event as it is. Whether or not we should take it from a theoretical politic or to move it to a real politic, where people are talking about things that (matter), we’re talking about the Equal Housing and Unemployment Act … I definitely think that some of that needs to be (discussed). I think we need to be talking about — and bringing up at Pride — why 04 doesn’t Cincinnati have a domestic partner registry? Why don’t we have benefits for city employees? When are we going to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in Ohio?

George Crawford: vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Gay Chamber of Commerce, a GLBT advocacy group that promotes and encourages the entrepreneurial endeavors of the gay business community.

CB: How do you feel about Cincinnati’s Pride?
George Crawford: I basically think Pride is a celebration of people’s freedom to be gay. It’s a celebration of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots 40 years (ago). You grow up with such shame around it and try to battle your guilt from everyone else, and then you wake up one day in a city and that’s when you find out there are other people like you. … To me that’s what Pride’s all about: your ability to celebrate the freedom to be who you are.

CB: How does Cincinnati’s Gay Pride Festival compare to other places you’ve lived?
GC: I think Cincinnati, as a city, doesn’t have a lot of pride. I just think Cincinnati’s biggest enemy is its own residents who have never lived anywhere else and take for granted that they have two sports teams and an amazing library system and gems like Findlay Market. They always talk about what a horrible city it is and how they hate it here. And if they went to other cities and lived in other places and came back here, they would see how great this city actually is. So I think that kind of translates across all of our communities, especially the gay community, where we don’t actually have a strong sense of pride of our city — and I think they should.

CB: What is the Greater Cincinnati Gay Chamber of Commerce doing to counteract Cincinnati’s alleged lack of pride?
GC: Basically, our mission as a Chamber is to help our GLBT and GLBT-supported businesses network, promote themselves and stay in business. We’re doing an event exactly three weeks after Pride called Equinox, and we’re inviting the gay and lesbian communities from 16 cities here for the weekend to kind of see that the climate is changing towards gays and lesbians. It’s much friendlier than the national gay and lesbian thinks it is.

Estelle Riley: co-chair of the Membership and Community Events Committee of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Greater Cincinnati Chapter.

CB: How do you feel about Cincinnati Pride and why is it important?
Estelle Riley: I’m an almost 60-year-old woman who has been out for more than half of my life. I think Pride is important because it lets people see GLBT people that they might normally ever see. Because I’m able to be out … I feel that it is my responsibility to step up to the plate and help people by being a part of organizations such as the HRC. I think (Pride also) gives some gays the opportunity to come out.

CB: Do you think that Cincinnati Pride is a call for advocacy, a celebration or both?
ER: It should be a healthy mix of both celebration and politics. If you are an out GLBT person, you are by the sheer nature of those terms a political person. But there’s also something nice when you’re standing on Hamilton Avenue and down comes a drag queen that has walked from Burnett Woods in high heels. … You get a little lump in your throat.

Ethan Philbrick: organizer of the Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar. M1embers of invade unsuspecting straight hotspots on the first Friday of every month in order to promote peace, love and understanding between the GLBT and heterosexual communities.

CB: Having never been to Pride in Cincinnati before, what are you hoping to see for the GLBT community?
Ethan Philbrick: I’m expecting Cincinnati Pride to be a tight-knit, exuberant celebration. There’s so much energy in the queer community right now, with all the wonderful events and press we’ve been getting, that I think Pride will be the perfect opportunity to celebrate our differences and express our various identities. My one reservation about Pride celebrations — not specifically about Cincinnati’s, but all Pride celebrations — is that they only celebrate one way of being queer, which is generally a white, male and well-off queerness. I hope that Cincinnati’s Pride gives voice to many different kinds of queerness: queers of color, queers of different economic situations, gender queers, queer families, queer allies, people into an array of queer sexual practices, all of it.

CB: Is Pride a celebration, a call for advocacy or both?
EP: Advocacy and celebration. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.

CB: Why do you think it’s important that Pride not ignore its basic, inherent sexual core?
EP: I think it’s important not to erase the sex out of our identities. For many of us, isn’t sexiness a big part of why we’re queer in the first place? I think it’s important to resist the normalizing pull to become a sex-negative community and embrace ourselves in all our transgressive sexual glory. I hope Pride is a grand old sexy time!

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