It had to feel different this year. With the backdrop of the looming Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, which could come this week, Pridefest 2015 took on a heightened significance. Of course, it was also crazy fun. Still, with a growing consensus by both proponents, as well as opponents that the court will rule in favor of gay marriage, the event felt poignant – an almost celebration.
Pridefest is really a series of events leading up to Pride Week. The heart of the festival, however, is the parade followed by Pridefest. That our parade happens on Gay Street, simply adds to the fun. I’d love to say I chose my spot deliberately, but it was serendipity that led me to the intersection of Gay and Union. Quite possibly the best spot in any pride parade in the US, don’t you imagine?
While there were a number of elements one might expect from such a parade: rainbow flags, bright colors, couples hand-in-hand, there were a few surprises or twists as well. The parade started off with a “thank you” to “service men and veterans.” I suspect it served both as a patriotic tip-of-the-hat as well as a statement regarding the service of many gay men and women.
Four members of our city government, Deputy to the Mayor Bill Lyons and councilmen Nick Pavlis, Finbarr Saunders and Marshall Stair. While having our city officials in the Knoxville parade has come to be expected here, I would speculate that not many such parades in other southern cities can boast such a line-up.
Another shift this year was a significantly increased involvement by various faith groups. The Unitarian churches are pretty much a given in the parade as are the churches, such as the Metropolitan Community Church, which focus specifically on welcoming gay parishioners. The twist this year was in the large contingent of Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians marching to express their support. There may have been others, but they were very evident both in the parade and at Pridefest.
A predictable emphasis on marriage was also visible. One float featured a big wedding cake adorned with real-life bride and brides and grooms and grooms. Many of the signs addressed the issue. Gay marriage also appears to be the issue that brought the eight or so dissenters to the parade. They stood in front of a business with signs calling gay people “abominations” (quoting Leviticus) and saying various negative things about Gay Unions.
Of particular interest to me was their para-military attire, covered faces and Nazi references in their banners and t-shirts. Not exactly a crowd to which I’d be comfortable being aligned. They were asked very firmly to leave the business in question which did not want the faintest association with the lot.
Otherwise the crowd of a few thousand lined the streets and flowed through them in a beautiful pageant and a testament to the humanity in us all. The parade brought joy in every direction and clearly the vast majority of those gathered came for a celebration.
Numerous other groups were represented, such as the Democratic Party, Alcoa Aluminum and the ACLU. Many student groups were present including a UT diversity group, a Pelissippi student group and LGBT alumni of Carson Newman. Whirlpool and Chipotle, labor unions and Jobs with Justice and no doubt many others I missed either sponsored floats or marched in support.
People I’d love to see next year? The Baptists, Presbyterians, Jewish and Muslim leaders, Knox County officials, Knox County School officials and UT officials. Maybe the Republicans would join in. If we had this broad an alignment of representatives from our community, think what a powerful message that would send to our own citizens and to others who might consider moving here. As for the Republicans, I saw one sign that speaks to their emphasis on business and may, thus, inspire their support: “Three words that will save the economy: Gay Bridal Registry.”
The moment that choked me up a bit – and I really didn’t see it coming – was when a float passed by playing “All You Need is Love.” Simplistic and unrealistic, right? And sometimes precisely the truth.
Thankfully, the rain held off until the parade had at least cleared Gay Street. There would be off-and-on showers for several hours, but it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm and, in fact, kept a potentially brutally hot day more in the reasonably hot range.
Pridefest was an extended jam on the same themes, lasting into the evening. I missed Joan Osborne, but saw our own Karen Reynolds deliver her typically great set and I also caught Billy Gilman who is possibly the highest profile country signer to come out. He had the crowd going crazy. Lots of booths, food and liquor covered a major swath of the north lawn at the World’s Fair Park and the large crowd only grew as the night passed. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear Joan Osborne end the night.
The cultural shift on this issue in the last generation has been one of the most stunning in American history. Obviously discrimination and ignorance on the topic hasn’t disappeared, but that this event can be held in the south and celebrated by gay and straight, religious and non-religious, and people from extremely diverse walks of life and leaders from the community is a testament to how far we’ve come. We may be one simple ruling away from another leap forward.
For a more complete photo collection of the day including these photographs and about fifty additional shots, visit the Inside of Knoxville Facebook Page in the album Pridefest 2015. If you enjoy it and haven’t done so already, “like” it while you are there.