OpEd: Reflections on a Modest Pride Festival

Photo: JR Davis

When you are up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember your purpose was to drain the swamp.

So there I was on Saturday, Oct. 10, at noon, the Chair of Pride Fort Lauderdale, getting ready to open the doors to the public arriving at the Holiday Park Festival, when I get a call over the radio from the park supervisor: "We have a problem, Norm, the cardboard garbage cans you ordered never arrived."

And so it began, two days of around the clock crisis management, with little time to laugh, lie back, or enjoy the moment, especially while downing a Z-pak, and fighting an emerging head cold.

My biggest frustration for myself with the festival is that I spent too much time carting ice to bars to be breaking the ice with the diverse crowd of attendees and vendors. I am sorry for that. First of all, when you volunteer for a community event, you have to let yourself enjoy the moment.

Still, as the chair, we were only able to pay for the entertainment and the venue because of contributing sponsors who laid out their money, and spent long hours working under a hot sun, setting up early in the morning and leaving long after the crowds went home. To those of you, who did so, on behalf of Pride Fort Lauderdale, let me say ‘thank you.’

Gay pride festivals are often compromised in communities where much is taken for granted. There is not a lot to fight for anymore. We can get married. We do get tested. We don't tolerate bullying. We have a wealth of business groups celebrating our coalitions and a host of media entities already promoting our achievements.

For those of us already managing businesses five days a week and attending business associations along with Pride Center founder’s cocktail parties, weekend festivals tax and drain your staff's resources. The day to day meet and greets at business associations are just as important as the annual parties, and maybe even more so.

The LGBT community still has causes worth fighting for. Annual festivals should celebrate those, but we need to do it so they are accessible to all and not just a privileged few. They need to be modestly priced and down right welcoming, like a Fourth of July barbecue.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a festival on the beach for free like Miami does; where the entire community can go without financial inhibitions?

The festivals can’t just be a party for music lovers anymore, though. They have to stand for something more tangible, celebrating our achievements, acknowledging our accomplishments, and recognizing the work ahead.

Knowing that, more people will show up on a Saturday afternoon to watch Team Heartbreak and Lady Bunny then they will to listen to a seminar from a tax consultant. Still there were people like attorneys George Castrataro and Aaron Humphries, investment counselor Jim Senior and judicial candidate Lea Kraus out at the park offering free seminars. It’s important when we do good things for our friends.

For me, the nicest part of the festival last year was having couples celebrate marriage. This year, watching gay moms and dads take their kids on free pony rides was kind of cute. Look, Mike Huckabee, we can be people too. But hey, if we are going to have full families in the park, maybe guys should not show up in ass-less chaps, and women should cover their breasts.

Still, too many gay pride events have become repetitive and routine, mundane and not worldly. We probably have to rethink them going forward. It's time to go back to the drawing board. Truthfully, we need to do better.

If we are going to pull together a music fest, let’s collect the money to get one kick ass entertainer that will draw a cross section of our entire community and create a singularly memorable event. To do that, you have to be ready to contract a year in advance, and bank way ahead of time.

The limited resources that Broward’s pride organizations have had these past few years have hampered those noble aspirations. I can say this of this year’s pride- that all the funds are accounted for, and all its obligations will be met.

Aside from the need for a full time paid director, Pride Fort Lauderdale is going to require new blood. The real reason Pride in Fort Lauderdale has been more mediocre than magical these past few years is because volunteers have been taxed and drained instead of enlarged and empowered.

It's time for a new and younger generation of LGBT leaders to formulate a plan for the future, to take the reins and lead the way. I know I am ready to pass the baton. If you are a young gay kid, there is a lot more to do in life than party at a Friday night for four hours in a club.

The American LGBT community is getting to where it needs to be in life. Obstructions are falling weekly, and opportunities are opening daily. Seize one. Create the world you want to live in. Every choice you make every day makes that happen, whether you are 16 or 60.

From marriage to the military, from equality to education, we have reason to smile. You have a chance to step up. You are needed at the Pride Center in Equality Park, at Sun Serve, at Impulse, and here at Pride Fort Lauderdale. They can use your volunteerism at SAVE, in the softball leagues, and over at Poverello. Make your life matter.

As we go forward, our festivals can’t just be vendor fests and boys in bathing suits parading around. It can’t be how much liquor you drink before you go to a bar and drink even more. It has to mean more.

Let me know what you think.

SFGN will publish your thoughts….

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