Dayton’s annual LGBT pride celebration
By Chelsea Davis
Photo: Jah Soul performs at Courthouse Square during 2013’s Dayton Pride; photo: Randy Phillips
“Pride is designed for people to be able to be themselves,” Randy Phillips, president of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, said. “Gay people have been looked down upon and oppressed and Pride came about for people to be themselves and tell everyone, ‘Hey, I’m OK.’”
Dayton Pride 2014, “Peace, Love and Pride,” kicks off Friday, June 6 with the Pride Gayla event.
History of Gay Pride
On Sunday, June 28, 1970, one year after the game-changing Stonewall riots brought the LGBT community and civil rights movement into the spotlight, members and allies of the community commemorated the riots with the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” march in Manhattan.
The Stonewall riots were a weeklong series of uprisings beginning June 28, 1969, between members of the New York City LGBT community and police officers. The uprisings began as a result of a raid at the Christopher Street gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village.
The parade began as a way for gay men, gay women, trans people and allies to stand in solidarity, and to show the world who they were and that they were proud, despite the fear of persecution and harm from a society rife with homophobia.
In the documentary, “Stonewall Uprising,” early Pride participants discuss the worry and fear associated with this display of pride. Initially there wasn’t even a planned rally in Central Park because the group couldn’t guarantee they would make it the entire way, from Greenwich Village to the Central Park stopping point.
“In those days, the idea of walking in daylight, with a sign saying, ‘I’m a faggot,’ was horrendous,” playwright Doric Wilson said in the documentary. “Nobody, nobody was ready to do that.”
However, the fear did not hold the marchers back. Instead, by the end of the parade thousands of supporters banded together, waving flags, carrying signs and chanting, “Say it clear, say it loud, gay is good, gay is proud.”
Soon the success of the Christopher Street Liberation Day march reached cities and local organizations around the world. It became the first gay pride parade, but definitely not the last. Today, most major cities in America and throughout the world host weeklong pride events that culminate in a festive and celebratory parade.
With many advances in the LGBT civil rights movement throughout the years, parade signs and chants have gone from “Gay Freedom” and “Gay Liberation,” to “Gay Pride” and with that came a shift in the attitude of most participants. Now, Pride has become less of a way to simply show who you are, but a way to say, “This is who I am, and I am not apologizing.”
This year, the Greater Dayton LGBT Center chose “Peace, Love and Pride” as the theme for Pride events, to showcase just how far the movement has come, and yet, how much more needs to be done.
“It sums up where the situation is right now,” Lisa Grisgby, at-large member of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, said. “There is still a lot more peace and acceptance that needs to be had in the community – it’s still a tricky and provocative topic to talk about – we can talk about LGBT issues now, but still can’t seem to do so peacefully.”
According to Grigsby, Pride isn’t as much about fighting to be accepted and not being embarrassed to show people who you are – it’s about peace.
“We don’t have to get along, we just have to be civil and peaceful,” Grisgby said. “How do you demonstrate and get across your point of view peacefully?”
The national hot-button issue, marriage equality, recently came to the forefront of Ohio politics. In April, 2014 Federal Judge Timothy Black ruled the state of Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages that occur in other states. However, Black stayed his ruling, to only include the four couples who filed the lawsuit that led to the court case in February. The state attorney general’s office filed a notice of appeal with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in early May.
In addition to Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage, which is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, there are currently no state-wide, sexuality-based anti-discrimination laws in Ohio. That means, if you are an L, G, B or T, and are not a federal employee, businesses have the right to openly discriminate against you. That includes denying service, denying/terminating employment and refusing housing.
“Unfortunately, in Ohio you can still be discriminated against in the workplace – those are the things we have to let people know,” Grisgby said. “Ohio is not going to change, Ohio is not going to make marriage legal unless we push for it and say something.”
Fortunately for those living in the Miami Valley and select other Ohio areas, including Columbus and Cincinnati, there are anti-discrimination laws in place.
“We’re not looking for special rights, we’re looking for equal rights,” Jan Couchman, president of the Dayton chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) said. “Everybody just wants to be able to love who they love without repercussions. This theme means we need to be proud of who we are and who we love, and we want a peaceful way of showing that and celebrating diversity.”
Dayton and the Miami Valley have also armed themselves with a bevy of organizations aimed to empower and support the LGBT community, as well as educate and advocate for community.
Many of those organizations are involved in Dayton Pride, including the Dayton chapter of PFLAG, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and of course the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, which is organizing the events.
Dayton Pride has come a long way in the last few years. Lisa Grisgby, who first got involved with Pride in the larger sense in the 1980s and has attended Pride events in various U.S. cities, mentioned when she first attended Dayton Pride a few years ago, it was small and didn’t seem overtly proud. Since then, the LGBT Center has made it a mission to grow the parade and surrounding events each year.
The LGBT Center has enlisted various local and well-known businesses and corporations to sponsor Dayton Pride, including Lexis Nexis.
“How can we evolve and include more people, and reach out to companies in town? That’s what I do,” Grisgby said. “What do we offer? Most people will look to pride if someone has recently come out, so what services do we offer to let it be more than just a big dance party.”
One of the many ways Dayton organizations hope to entice people to come support and celebrate is to show the many facets of the gay community.
“For people that aren’t as aware, it’s more than just the parade and glitter, we want to make sure we’re portraying a full lifestyle,” Grisgby said. “Drag queens are fun, but don’t make up about 80 percent of the people.”
At the Dayton Pride parade, you can find various companies and organizations marching in the parade, but there are also a number of organizations that will have booths set up at Courthouse Square, ready to give out information and answer questions.
Another one of the biggest events is the mass wedding ceremony in Courthouse Square, which occurs at the end of the parade. The wedding has been held for the past few years, and is a way for people to show their love and exchange their vows or promises while their families and friends look on. This event will continue until same-sex marriage is recognized legally in the state of Ohio.
“Last year, 50 couples participated and this year we hope to have as many,” Phillips said. “Until the pronouncement is given that marriage will be truly legal in the state of Ohio, we’ll continue to do these mass marriages.”
Dayton Pride 2014 Schedule
Pride officially kicks off Friday, June 6, with the Pride Gayla at Sinclair Community College’s David H. Ponitz Center. Unlike past years, there won’t be a sit-down dinner; instead, there will be hors d’oeuvres, while bands play on one of the two stages, so people can move around, interact and dance. The headliner of this event is comedian Thai Rivera.
Saturday, June 7, is the big parade day. To get everyone started, MJ’s Café is hosting a breakfast, then it’s time to start lining up for the parade. The parade begins at the corner of St. Clair and Third Streets and ends in Courthouse Square. Once the parade participants arrive in Courthouse Square, the festivities kick into high gear with a festival of music and entertainment from 12-5:30 p.m., including the mass wedding.
After that, everyone is encouraged to wind down a bit, and then rally for the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus presentation of I am Harvey Milk at 8 p.m. This piece was written specifically for the chorus by the man behind Broadway’s Big Fish, Andrew Lippa. The chorus will be accompanied by members of the Dayton Philharmonic.
After all of the excitement, relax with a lovely brunch hosted by Wheat Penny, the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, on Sunday, June 8, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Come join the fun
The participants in this year’s Pride events hope their efforts will not only be seen as a celebration, but also as a useful tool. There will be tents set up and many volunteers from various organizations ready to assist people in any way.
If you know someone who has recently come out and want more information about the LGBT community in Greater Dayton, come to the parade. If you’re struggling with and questioning your own sexuality, come to the parade. If you just want to support this community and cause, come to the parade!
“I want this to serve as a challenge for people to come out and join in on these activities,” Grisgby said. “Whatever you are, it’s a community celebration, and it’d be great to have more of the community come celebrate and educate themselves.”
Great strides have been made in the awareness and power of the LGBT community, and those involved with Pride see it as a way to further advance the cause, while having a great time and interacting with the community as a whole. Many see it as a way to reach out to those who might be on the fence when it comes to LGBT issues, and they hope to change the minds of these people in a positive way.
“These kids today are so accepting of the diversity,” Couchman said. “As they grow up, we’ll have a more open and reforming society, and that’s what I’d like to see for the future. We celebrate diversity and accept everyone in the community because everyone has something to offer.”
What began as a way to remember a terrible injustice and flagrant violation of rights, and to commemorate the strength of a belittled and oppressed community, has since become an extraordinary display of peace, love and, most importantly, Pride.
Dayton Pride events begin at 6 p.m. Friday, June 6 with the Pride Gayla at The David H. Ponitz Center of Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third St. The Pride Parade is Saturday, June 7 from noon – 5:30 p.m. and beginning at the corner of St. Clair and Third Streets. For more information on the pride parade and other events, please visit daytonlgbtcenter.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Chelsea Davis at ChelseaDavis @DaytonCityPaper.com.