Marching with a mission

Dayton’s annual Pride celebration

By Erin Callahan

Photo: Dayton Pride 2015 begins Friday, June 5. The annual Pride Parade begins at 11 a.m. on June 6

“The LGBT community, historically, has not been the favored community by any means,” Randy Phillips, president of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, says. “But through Pride, people can show that they’re not afraid. Everyone who attends—whether they’re gay, straight or an ally of the community—can walk away celebrating the individuals that they are and never be ashamed. That’s the point of this celebration.”

Dayton will host Pride 2015, “Winning Diversity, Celebrating Love,” kicking off Friday, June 5. The weekend will include signature events like the parade, as well as some new ones.

Dayton has been home to Pride celebrations for 27 years. The parade has been hosted by the Greater Dayton LGBT Center since its inception 20 years ago, with collaboration from supporting area organizations like Gay Dayton, ARC Ohio and the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus.

This is a fairly young tradition compared to other cities like New York City, which held the first ever Pride celebration.

On June 28, 1970, members and allies of the LGBT community came together for the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” march in New York City. It commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when police officers faced uprising from the LGBT community after a raid of the popular gay bar Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. Despite the adversity they faced, gay men, gay women and other members and allies of the LGBT community showed their pride through that first march.

The riots came at a time of great tension when homosexual sex was illegal in every state but Illinois. The riots only heightened the tension and made the LGBT community the subject of a national conversation, sparking advocacy across the country. Within two years, LGBT rights groups began appearing across the United States, and by the 1980s, several major cities had organized their own Pride parades.

Fast forward to 2015, when nearly every major city in the nation has a Pride celebration. This year’s festivities come near a possible turning point, as the nation sits on the horizon of the Supreme Court decision of whether to allow same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states or to allow gay marriage bans to be reinstituted in certain states. The decision is set to come in June.

Last year’s theme of Dayton Pride was “Peace, Love and Pride.” Lisa Grigsby, at-large member of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, says while not everyone will always be peaceful about discussing these issues, there has been evolution over time.

“Even back in the early days, Pride used to be the only time when people could hold their partner’s hand in public,” she says. “It was a small celebration, but now it’s community wide. The more conversation we can have, the better – instead of it being hushed or behind closed doors. And I think we are making progress.”

These conversations have led to action. Same-sex marriage is now permitted in 36 states, compared to 33 states at this time last year. There have been a series of discussions surrounding marriage equality, such as the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage, and whether states with bans can refuse to recognize gay marriages that have been performed in other states without a marriage ban.

Ohio is among four states in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defending the ban. The others include Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Phillips said the possibility of achieving marriage equality across the 50 states is a strong contributor to Dayton’s theme of “Winning Diversity, Celebrating Love” for the Pride celebrations this year. While he is hopeful to win over the decision for marriage equality, he emphasized the celebration of love, regardless of the outcome.

“Even long after the Supreme Court decision, there will always be detractors,” he says. “So rather than acknowledge them, the goal is to push forward with a positive message that equality is for all.”

Members and allies of the LGBT community are also seeking equality in the workplace. Currently, there are no statewide anti-discrimination laws in Ohio that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. However, numerous cities and counties throughout the state of Ohio do have these laws.

Grigsby says it’s not such a fight anymore for same-sex couples to be recognized, but we still have a way to go.

As part of this year’s Pride celebrations, the center is conducting a survey outreach to regional companies to gauge what benefits are currently being offered to LGBT employees.

The 15-question survey will be distributed through collaboration with Mayor Nan Whaley’s office and the Greater Dayton Human Resource Association. By using these resources, Grigsby assured the survey will reach far and wide. There will be information provided about discrimination and gender, companies can share the actions they’ve taken to put these policies in place and they will have the opportunity to ask questions.

“We don’t know how many companies already have this handled in the Dayton area, so we’re hoping it will start conversations,” Grigsby says. “As part of this survey we’re asking people to send us samples of their policies so we can begin a best-practices library. Creating these policies does take time, but companies may not realize it only takes a sentence or two to be able to do this. We hope to soon be able to offer suggestions, best practices and language they can adapt.”

Dayton has already begun to see growing support from area companies through sponsorships. This year, big names like presenting sponsor PNC Bank as well as Heidelberg Distributing Company have come forward to show their support – becoming the first major corporate sponsors of Dayton Pride.

“They’re stepping up to say ‘yeah, we support this,’ so what does that say to other large companies in the area?” Grigsby says. “In the past, this may not have happened or the companies would worry about what would the backlash be, but there was no hesitation from either of these companies.”

While the cause is gaining noticeable, large-scale support, there are still small organizations hard at work to provide resources and encouragement for individuals and their families.

At the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, Phillips, Grigsby and other members have kept the community active in the conversation, they’ve remained aware of what needs to be done for the community and how they can help. Grigsby, who is also the special events manager at the AIDS Resource Center, says education through fundraisers and community events has been a big focus as well.

“It gives members of the LGBT community a chance to be around like-minded people, and gives allies a chance to hear about the struggles they may not have realized before,” she says. “It has heightened my sensitivity and causes me to think about what we can do to achieve equality. [These struggles] may not be happening to me, but it could be happening to people I care about.”

The Greater Dayton LGBT Center extends an open invitation for all Pride events to the entire Dayton community. Pride will begin Friday, June 5 with “An Affair on the Square” on Courthouse Square from 5 to 9 p.m.

A new food truck rally will add flavor to the night with Zombie Dogz, Hunger Paynes, Go Cupcake and The Crazy Redhead Canteen. Churches and other LGBT organizations will be available to offer information and answer questions, and supporting organizations will also be present. The Rubi Girls will perform with other local entertainers and a DJ.

Phillips estimated nearly 50 vendors maxed out the space last year, and an estimated 3,000 guests have taken part in the event the last six years.

Once at Courthouse Square, the mass wedding ceremony will welcome couples to exchange vows. The ceremony, which became part of the Dayton Pride celebrations a few years ago, will be officiated by mayor Nan Whaley and is meant as a way for couples to share their love in front of their friends and family. The ceremony will continue every year until same-sex marriage is recognized in Ohio.

The celebrations conclude Sunday, June 7 with a brunch hosted at Wheat Penny from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Pride began as a fight for equality and continues to be an inspiring demonstration of diverse individuality, support and love. It provides an opportunity to learn, to advocate and be proud of who you are.

“It’s simply a community-wide celebration of an alternative lifestyle, no different than any other festival around town that celebrates a niche section of a population,” Grigsby says. “But what makes Pride so important is that it opens up people’s eyes to see a different world.

Dayton’s annual Pride celebrations begin Friday, June 5 with the parade beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 6. For a full schedule of activities, times and locations, please visit daytonlgbtcenter.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com

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