Gay rally, parade fills June void left by Pride's move to fall
The annual Pride Parade and Festival, which would normally take place this month, is moving to September. But Queerbomb, a local gay and lesbian collective, will hold its second annual parade Friday from the East Side Drive-In on East Sixth Street to Congress Avenue and back.
Austin's Pride Parade and Festival, which has been held on the first Saturday of June since 2002 and also includes a Pride Run, has changed a lot in the past year. The Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce created a foundation specifically to handle the Pride events, which attracts thousands of people — 45,000 people attended the 2008 festival, for example. The new Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation made two major changes: The group moved the parade from the first Saturday in June to Sept. 10, and it announced that the culminating festival — held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts last year — will move to a more intimate venue away from downtown, Fiesta Gardens.
For a celebration of liberation and love, the changes have provoked some animosity in the local gay and lesbian community , though Queerbomb, which held its first alternative celebration the night before Pride last year because it felt that Pride had become too mainstream , says the bad feelings were short-lived.
June historically is the month for Pride parades across the country to pay homage to the Stonewall Riots — violent New York protests prompted by a police raid at a popular gay bar on June 27, 1969, that mark the beginning of America's gay liberation movement. Queerbomb will hold Austin's sole June rally at 7p.m. Friday, Beth Schindler, a spokeswoman for the group said.
"People have talked about the battle between Queerbomb and Austin Pride, and that's not something I want to keep alive because it's not true anymore," Schindler added. "The foundation has been very open to working with us, and I'm really optimistic about what they're doing in September, and I think we're going to try to support them in whatever way possible."
Moving the parade to morning was crucial to getting the support of business owners on the existing downtown parade route, who had complained that street closures kept customers from their bars and restaurants during crucial hours .
"The last thing we want to do is be a hindrance to the city," said Karen Thompson, president of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation. "We talked to the city and representatives of the restaurant owners, and it seemed to us that we just can't have a Friday or Saturday night parade. It's not in anyone's best interest. Plus, we seriously believed that when it came down to it the city would have to make a decision for the business owners. When we contemplated a daytime parade, we thought about moving it to the fall."
Thompson said by moving the parade to September, the organization hopes to build it as a destination event "so people will come to Austin for Pride and they don't have to choose between Austin and every other Pride," she said. Thompson said that other cities have also moved their pride celebrations to other months, so the Austin change is not without precedent.
"We understand that June is Pride Month, we respect the history of Stonewall, but we think Pride is more than that; it's a recognition of who we have been and who we are and who we will be."
The move was logistically challenging because of the large number of long-established events as well as the new festivals that have cropped up, according to Frances Hargrove, manager of the Office of Special Events for the City of Austin.
"This is an event-loving city," Hargrove said. "It used to be that downtown Austin was a sleepy place during the day and anything that happened at night happened on Sixth Street. Now there are other factors like the W hotel and the ACL Moody theater. Then we have to take into consideration annual legacy events and UT football games because they have a huge impact on the city."
This year, with ACL Fest being back in September, she said, finding a good weekend date for the Pride Parade was even trickier.
But Thompson said that the fall date also will allow the foundation and the city to include the city's college students in Pride festivities because they'll be back in town for school. Thompson, who leads the Metropolitan Community Church, said the foundation also has scheduled a multifaith service for Sept. 8.
The second annual Pride Run will begin at 8 a.m. Sept. 10, followed by the parade at 10 a.m.
"Everybody's not pleased, and we understand that," Thompson said. "But we really have a great board and they want to bring out the best in our community. We hope that through our efforts, people understand that it's a way of life, not just a day in June or a day in September."