Virginia Pridefest 2016 broke records, offered perfect chance to celebrate being LGBTQ in RVA
Virginia Pridefest, the Capitol’s largest official LGBTQ Pride event, offered a perfect chance for every member of the state’s LGBTQ and ally community to live authentically and celebrate this past Saturday.
Returning to Brown’s Island for the third year in a row, it was once again a massive differences from the events humble beginnings in the Diversity Richmond Parking lot or even Kanawha Plaza.
“It was surreal. Absolutely amazing. It exceeded our wildest expectations,” said James Millner, President of the Virginia Pride Board, the non-profit group that organizes VA Pridefest, who spent most of Saturday keeping things in line. He boasted attendance numbers at a record breaking 30,000 throughout the day. “This is the Pride festival Central Virginia deserves.”
RPD have put attendance numbers closer to 15 K – either way an increase over years past.
While the day was full of music, performance, art, merriment and good times, for Millner it was the political representation that meant the most to him.
“For the first time in history of any Pride event in Virginia, we had a sitting Governor, Senator and Congressman attend and speak,” Millner said. “Governor McAuliffe, Senator Warner and Congressman Scott spent a great deal of time walking around and talking to folks. That’s amazing to me.”
Millner, Gov. McAuliffe and Actor Blake Cooper Griffin
Millner was also impressed with the wide range of folks who came out – representing so many colors and every part of the LGBTQ spectrum.
“There were families, children, gay, straight, trans, bi, and everything in between, of all colors, races and ethnicities,” he said. “People truly came out and celebrated who and what they are. It was amazing.”
While the sunshine and the mid-80s temps helped the day seem perfect, Millner admitted things were a bit more hectic behind the scenes. For example, next year he’s hoping to double the number of volunteers.
“We all pulled together and made it work,” he said. “But there are certainly things that we can improve, but each year we get better at this, remember, there are nine people on the board who organized this event. That’s incredible.”
While the event’s main stage aims to avoid election politics it was hard to avoid the topic. To that effect, the Hillary Clinton campaign sent actor Blake Cooper Griffin to Pride for a bit. The actor, known for his roles on the 90210 reboot as well as ABC’s Castle, said he’d been involved in politics, specifically the HRC campaign since she first ran in 2008.
“I’m so devoted to the things that Hillary stands for and the fact that she believes in the American Dream for all people… gay or straight, man or woman, she’s standing up for everybody,” he said. His stop at Pride was part of a multi-event tour that involved other stops around Central VA.
But the actor’s visit was also a kind of homecoming. Though he’s a South Carolina native, he spent some of his youth in Midlothian.
“We got a lot of snow days” Griffin said about the years he spent at Clover Hill Elementary. “It’s fun to be back, especially when you’re talking about something your passionate about.”
Back on the main stage, Gov. McAuliffe (seen below), a long time friend of the Clintons, avoiding discussing the election and instead touted his long time support for the LGBTQ community in the Commonwealth – from his first executive order which protected LGBTQ state employees from discrimination to his vetoing of a proposed “religious freedom” bill during the 2016 Virginia General Assembly.
“Three years ago, there were a lot of walls up and doors closed, and now we’re one of the most open states in the United states of America,” he said before repeating one of his favorite titles – the first Governor south of the Mason Dixon line to perform a same-sex wedding: “and the sky didn’t fall in!” he joked.
While his message was short, McAuliffe, who spent the day before helping to launch Virginia’s new LGBT Tourism campaign, reaffirmed his support of the LGBTQ folks in attendance saying “If you’re having fun and living your life – God bless yea. I want you here, I want you working, I want you having a good time.”
Virginia Senator Mark Warner also took the Virginia Pride stage to offer support and acknowledge the progress LGBTQ folks have made across the Commonwealth.
“We have come a long way,” Warner said as he detailed the rest of his itinerary on the busy September day.
A video posted by Mark R. Warner (@senatorwarner) on
“Earlier today, I was with 1000 strong women talking about where woman are moving in the state, later I’m going to Taste of India to celebrate the great contributions of Indian americans. Here, later tonight, I know there will be thousands celebrating pride day – While there will always be forces pushing us backwards to the arch of our history is all about moving forward… its about no matter who we are or who we love,” Warner said.
Warner was introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, Virginia’s only gay Senator. He made the trip from Annandale again this year and was taking in the sun along everyone else. “The symbolism is great,” said Ebbin considering RVA’s Confederate and conservative past. “We’ve come a long way in Virginia and its important gay people celebrate what we’ve got but also commit to moving forward.”
Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham was in attendance as well. He returned for this year’s Pride event alongside representatives from Henrico and Chesterfield Police including all four police Liaisons – Henrico’s Captain Linda Tony, Chesterfields Elliot Anderson, Richmond Sheriff’s Office’s Maj. James Jenkins and RPD’s Captain Dan Minton.
Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield PD members
“Richmond is an awesome city… It’s a festive environment,” said Durham who called him and his Police force members of the community “it means so much, especially as the chief of police, to be out here and be engaging… we look at whats going on across the country and we don’t want that here. We have a strong community, and anything can happen, but we’re gonna be out here.”
While the crowd was noticeably worry-free, recent incidents of violence against LGBTQ folks and other large gathers weighed in the back of some folks minds. Sniffing dogs could be seen walking Brown’s Island ahead of the event and Durham said he’d added “a few more officers” to offer additional protection, but overall he was confident RPD had things under control.
“This is a festive environment where we’re doing that,” he said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “And all that evil and hate going on around the world, we don’t want that. Not in our city.”
And that festive environment was infections – there was little room for bad times as musicians like Black Liquid, Trunk Show Band, and a number of drag queens, including Babe’s Triple X Divas and the recently crowned Miss Virginia Capital City Gay Pride Katrina Colby, came from around the city and state to help celebrate the event.
A video posted by GayRVA (@gayrva) on
The event’s headliner, Mary Lambert of “Same Love” fame, offered her own unique musical styles to the crowd as the sun set behind the james.
A video posted by Yelyzaveta (@yelyzaveta.s) on
As the day wrapped up and folks made trips to late night destinations, all that was left was for the Pride volunteers like Millner to clean up the mess – a task he and others took on with smiles despite the work ahead.
“This event is a result of the combined efforts of so many organizations, individuals and businesses in our community,” he said. “This is a great example of what can happen when we all work together. But, VA Pride is elated that we were able to marshal the resources of our community to produce a festival that we all can be proud of.
Honestly, we spent most of the day manning a booth for the first time so we didn’t get to interview as many folks as we’d like – but we did get tons of photos, so check them out below and we’ll see you next year!
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