Virginia Pridefest 2014 will be remembered as a year of firsts
Virginia Pride has grown significantly in the past decades, but to see a standing Governor onstage for the first time at 2014′s Pride event shows how far the event and the LGBT movement has come.
It was a year of firsts all around for the event this past warm Saturday in September, with new groups and members from the LGBTQ and ally community coming from around the state to take part in the celebration.
After last year’s appearance of Richmond Police with a recruitment tent, it was exciting to see both Henrico and Chesterfield police in similar roles this year.
Sarah Sclafani, a Henrico Police officer for 6 years, sat proudly behind HPD’s flag. They were recruiting for 911 dispatchers and open police officer positions.
“We wanted to branch out, especially with it being a nice day,” said Sclafani. She said they like to come down into the city and get out of their jurisdiction when they can.
“We don’t want anyone to think a police officer has to be a certain type of person,” said Sclafani about why it was important for her police department to be at pride. ”We have people from different backgrounds, all shapes and sizes. We want minorities, females, people that come from a different background.”
“We have a gay population,” she said finally, almost avoiding the term until the very end. “So we have to represent the population we serve.” She was noticeably proud of herself (and rightfully so!) for expressing so clearly her support for diversity hiring practices.
Chesterfield PD’s LGBT point of contact and community policing officer, Elliot Anderson, echoed Sclafani’s sentiments.
“Our police department is inclusive and we want to make sure people understand we value inclusiveness and diversity,” said Anderson. CPD also had a recruitment tent and had several officers on hand to answer questions.
“With an estimated 10-20K people coming out today,” said Anderson. “It was a no-brainer to come out.”
Another new face at Virginia Pride was a young ginger giving out free hugs–Rand Irons, and his group Mormons Building Bridges. Now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints isn’t exactly progressive on the issue of same-sex relationships, but Irons and his local chapter of the nation-wide movement are hoping to change that.
“It’s still a little bit hard… there’s a lot of people who are supportive,” said Irons. “But [they] aren’t exactly sure where the line is and how they can be supportive… as they meet other gay Mormons, there’s a shift occurring in the church.”
Irons’ tiny “free hugs!” sign was drawing some positive attention, and he even got some support from former Mormons who were attending the event.
“A lot of people have come up and given me hugs. I’ve also spoken to former members of the church who said they were very appreciative of us coming out,” said Rand. “It’s been an overwhelmingly good response.”
Another first for pride this year was the unexpected appearence by Virginia’s current Governor, Terry McAuliffe.
Pride President Sean Pierce said the conversation about McAuliffe coming to pride had started about a month prior to the event, but nothing was solidified until a few days before.
“We had to meet the secret service early in the day to make sure no one was going to blow anything up, and then it was waiting all day for security to call me to tell me they were leaving the mansion,” said Pierce. He described himself nervously holding his phone waiting for the security detail to call – but when McAuliffe arrived and took the stage, it was a moment he knew he’d never forget.
“The speech he gave was incredible,” said Pierce. “If that didn’t move the crowd, I don’t know what would.”
One final (and arguably most noticeable) first for Virginia Pride 2014 was the event happening at Brown’s Island instead of Kanawha Plaza.
The massive space, usually reserved for events like the Richmond Folk Festival and Friday Cheers, made a great venue for the nearly 18,000 people in attendance.
“It was the size that we needed,” said Pierce. “It offered a better layout for vendors, it was easier for people to move around and function in.”
In Pierce’s eyes, holding the event on Brown’s Island was a huge step.
“It put Virginia Pride as a focal point in Richmond,” said Pierce. ”People don’t ignore events on Brown’s Island.”
RPD LGBT Liaison Major Johnson (middle), RPD Chief of Police Ray J. Tarasovic (right) and his wife (left)
It wasn’t all new this year, however. There were many familiar faces and elements of Pride which make the festival so great.
Most of the logistical services were provided by volunteers; LGBTQ folks and allies who care about the community and want to see the event grow.
Blaze and Anastasia were manning the liquor tent, slinging sauce to those brave enough to stand in the long drink-ticket lines. They were both excited to take part in the event and volunteer in a capacity they knew folks would be grateful for.
“It’s been great,” said Blaze. “It’s really awesome to come out here and see the LGBT and queer community in Richmond and see how Pride gets run.”
Volunteers got a Va Pride T-shirt and a food voucher – a decent trade for a few hours work. Anastasia said she enjoyed being able to take part in the out-there nature of Pride.
“It’s the day we get to all come out together and be ourselves and be flamboyant as all hell.”
Virginia Pride was still significantly more modest than some other Prides around the country. These kinds of celebrations can often come with outlandish clothing (or lack thereof) and significant public displays of sexuality.
Virginia Pride, for better or worse, lacked the in-your-face exposure many see as making an LGBT Pride event what it is.
But that’s certainly not a bad thing, at least to folks like Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline. Gorsline, who heads People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, said he’d been to many prides around the country and the state, and Virginia Pride stood out for its respectful nature.
“The number of families I saw, lesbian grandmas with their grand kids,” said Gorsline. “Gay men and women with their gaybies, it was great to see.”
Another familiar face to RVA’s LGBT scene was Richmond Triangle Players’ Managing Director Phillip Crosby.
He was manning the RTP booth, enjoying the people-watching, and telling folks about the work they do in the community.
“It’s a great way to meet people, to tell people about the shows, and celebrate our community,” said Crosby.
He and the RTP have been vendors at Pride for about 5 years, and he remembers when the event was held in the Gay Community Center of Richmond’s parking lot.
Needless to say, he was excited to see the change of venue.
“It’s a huge space; it’s pretty cool.”
Rounding out the group of folks you’re glad to see at Pride were Kerry Abrams and the folks at James River Transgender Society, a transgender community group.
JRTS are now in their fourth year at Pride, and Abrams is always grateful to be able to get the word out about her group when Pride comes around.
Virginia Pridefest 2014 faced many challenges along the road to Brown’s Island – it’s not easy trying to involve and support so many different groups from the Central VA region, just like how hard it was to include all the groups and folks we spoke to in this story. But those who made it happen, the all volunteer board headed by Pierce, worked hard to get it where it was. And Pierce wants people to know this is just the beginning.
“This year was a great projection of what Pride can be, from the instant beach party to the actual event, and everything in between,” said Pierce. “We’re really focusing on becoming a lighthouse for the community. We don’t want to be a one-day event anymore, and I think that’s what people want.”
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