The day that began beautifully in Knoxville turned muggy and very hot by the afternoon. That did not seem to slow the floods of people converging on downtown for the annual PrideFest celebration. Predicted to be bigger than any previous celebration, it appeared to fulfill its promise. Parking was only available on the top deck of the Locust Street Garage by mid-afternoon.
The parade was the initial draw and I was able to catch portions of it. I missed Mayor Rogero and Eddie Mannis (pictured here from Thursday night), Nick Pavlis, Bill Lyons and Finbarr Saunders heading up the parade, but clearly, the Mayor’s presence was the buzz of the day. Bill Lyons represented the city during the Haslam administration, which is pretty impressive in today’s climate for a Republican administration, but having the mayor and other civic leaders present definitely inspired the crowd in this year’s parade.
The floats ranged from the campy to the trashy and all points in between. Marchers carried banners declaring love from one of several involved churches including the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in which outreach to the LGBTQ community has been a focal point of their ministry. Other signs simply decried violence against gays.
Several interesting groups entered the parade, including a Clemson Alumni group, which seemed pretty cool and made me wonder if we’ll ever see a UT Alumni group. I also spotted a championship volleyball team.
Mostly, the participants and the very large crowds smiled. Big smiles. You might say everyone was gay and it would seem to be true. I saw no protesters and everyone involved, gay and straight seemed to enjoy the bedlam. That’s pretty amazing for a city this size in the south.
Unable to catch most of the entertainment, I did hear a female vocalist on the Market Square Stage singing the song, “I Hate Men.” I assumed it was tongue in cheek, but I didn’t hang around to ask her. On the stage at the other end of the celebration – two blocks away at Clinch and Market, I thought the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus sounded great. Their rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” felt like a validation, like a statement of rising above it all as a people.
Booths lined Market Square representing groups with direct, indirect and no obvious ties to the event and its purpose. In many respects it was like any other festival downtown: Funnel cakes consumed, cell phones offered for sale, food trucks and cabs lining the streets. Except that many couples holding hands and smiling large smiles shared the same gender. Maybe they also shared a little spring in their steps being among people of like mind, if not orientation.
My favorite moment of the day came at dinner and may not have been directly related. Dining with my 78 year old father, my wife, my daughter and son-in-law and grandchild, my wife asked my father what he thought about all of this. He answered that what everyone else chooses to do is their own business and it didn’t bother him. Not bad for a 78 year old devout Baptist.
During the same dinner at Cafe Four, in which we sat in the loft, we were joined by a lesbian couple and their child, a heterosexual, white couple who looked to be in their 60s, two younger white hetero couples and a young black male and his white female companion. Young, old and in-between. White, black, straight and gay. And it was congenial and pleasant. Couples interacted and laughed, stories were shared.
And it was during that dinner that I thought, “Maybe we are number eight. (Our ranking for gay-friendliness in Advocate Magazine) Maybe it’s possible that we can get along, after all.” One moment in one day, one meal in a loft does not tolerance prove, but isn’t it a hopeful sign for our city? I think so.