The temperatures were high. The lines for the food trucks were long, the lines for the alcohol vendors even longer. But everyone at VA PrideFest 2017 on Brown’s Island was having a great time regardless.
Arriving just before the event’s official kickoff at noon, GayRVA set up our booth. We had the privilege of being on the western end of the Brown’s Island complex, in the middle of the Youth Village area. This was a great place to be, and gave us the opportunity to interact with a lot of excited young LGBTQ people, some of whom were clearly having their first experience of being out and proud in a supportive environment. As parents looked on, kids with rainbow and trans pride flags tied around their necks like Superman’s cape ran excitedly from booth to booth.
Folks of all ages were decked out in their most flamboyant finery, from t-shirts that portrayed their pride with snappy slogans (a volunteer at a nearby booth sported a t-shirt that read, “Are you still trying to make that gender binary work? …In this economy?”) to a sea of rainbow-colored accessories–bandanas, suspenders, etc. Drag performers decked out in full makeup and elaborate outfits wandered amongst the crowds when not performing, and a few other people, notably a man dressed head to toe in leather, had equally striking profiles. Sweltering in my striped cotton dress, I couldn’t help but wonder how these people were standing it.
But nothing slowed the crowd down. People chatted excitedly in small groups scattered all over the midway, and wandered through the rows of booths featuring organizations of every stripe, signing up for mailing lists, taking brochures, and acquiring souvenirs. An impressive range of groups were on hand, demonstrating pride from every corner.
A variety of political stances were represented, from the relatively mainstream positions of LGBT Democrats to the strong left-wing viewpoints represented by Southerners on New Ground. Political office-holders and candidates were in the mix too, including Governor Terry McAuliffe and Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Cliff Hyra. A surprising absence this year was any Republican representation–perhaps in Trump’s America, things have gotten a little too contentious in the LGBTQ community for groups like the Log Cabin Republicans or Gays For Trump to risk showing up.
There were a great deal of locally-active corporations on hand as well, making sure that everyone attending knew of their support for the LGBTQ community, and the ways in which their business practices and hiring policies created safe and supportive environments for customers and employees from the community. This is a heartening thing to see, as many people from various segments of the LGBTQ spectrum still struggle to find good jobs and gain equal treatment from the places they shop.
At both stages, drag shows were big draws. The Youth Village stage got things going with a Disney-themed drag show in which performers danced to songs from films like Alladin, Frozen, and Pocahontas. Later on, at the main stage, the crowd went wild for the appearance by Ru Paul’s Drag Race star Aja, who pulled out all the stops to give the many fans what they showed up for.
VA PrideFest 2017 lived up to its billing as a celebration. Despite Vegas-in-August levels of heat, everyone was having a blast, making new friends, dancing, and living it up. There are many issues still confronting the LGBTQ community, some of which are being addressed by organizations present at PrideFest. But this was an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the gains we’ve made and appreciate each other’s company in a supportive environment full of fun, sun, and excellent entertainment.