Pridefest 2015: Jubilant and Poignant

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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 Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

At the Intersection of Gay & Union,Pridefest Parade, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

At the Intersection of Gay & Union,Pridefest Parade, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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?

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Nick Pavlis, Finbarr Saunders, Bill Lyons and Marshall Stair, Pridefest Parade, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Nick Pavlis, Finbarr Saunders, Bill Lyons and Marshall Stair, Pridefest Parade, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Counter Protesters, Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Counter Protesters, Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

 

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.

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.”

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest Parade 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Billy Gillman, Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Billy Gillman, Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

Pridefest 2015, Gay Street, Knoxville, June 2015

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.

Comments

  1. David Byrd says

    Thanks for your coverage, Urban Guy! Happy Pride!

  2. Great coverage KUG on one of my favorite events of the year!

  3. The intersection of Gay and Union!! Amazing!!!

  4. The festival definitely reclaims the “gay” as in “happy” for me. I felt comfortable and welcomed as a “happy” hetero married male. The point is: It doesn’t matter as long as you believe in inclusiveness. The free bottled water was a much-appreciated plus. Of note is that the protesters wore garb similar to Isis, so possibly aligned with that group in more ways than they’d like to admit.

    • Of particular interest to me – several of the protestors had full face covering, as if they realize that they should be embarrassed about what they were doing. Hopefully between this year and next they’ll realize that if you aren’t willing to be recognized doing something, then it is the wrong thing to do.

  5. Hope Waddle says

    Great coverage Alan. Was there volulnteering, selling beer/ wine/ etc. It was an awesome day and I met some awesome humans!!!
    Loved the feel of freedom in the air and the freedom of love all around me♡

  6. I know that the Episcopal Church has been well-represented at PrideFest for many years and I’m fairly certain that my church, St. James, has marched in the parade for as many years.

    In any event, great coverage. As you know, I was Ubering and it was a spectacular day for that, as well.

    I was caught in traffic, at one point, but my vantage point allowed me to see the parade. It was probably the only time in my life that I didn’t mind that scenario!

    The Brewfest was also an enormous success. At one point, the line to get in stretched down Jackson, from Gay back to Broadway.

    I was out there for over 13 hours and I have never felt such jubilance from the people I met like I did last Saturday. I also spied you, Alan, making your way up Locust, at one point. I let my riders know that this was, indeed, a Knoxville Urban Guy sighting!

  7. Thanks so much for the great coverage of Knoxville PrideFest. We are very blessed to have a city that is so inclusive.
    Thanks to everyone who attended and volunteered to make Knoxville PrideFest the largest free pride in the state.
    Hope to see you next year.
    M. Mark Church-Janes – Vice-President
    East TN Equality Council, Inc

  8. One of the best moments of the Parade for me was what happened w/the protesters right before the parade reached that area; dozens of people moved across the street, not to confront them, but to step in front of them and fill that area w/the wonderful colors that represent Pride and to drown out their messages of hate with some very loud clapping & cheering whenever a new parade group passed by that area.

    When I had walked by them earlier, I heard one of the men instructing the others to use as many “slurs” as they could in order to elicit a reaction from the crowd– and they tried very hard to get people to respond negatively to them. K-town did itself proud by reflecting the ideals of Pride and responding by celebrating love and acceptance (loudly and vividly) rather than meeting hate w/hate.

  9. Thanks for the great coverage Alan. My wife and I have been here 1 year now. Pride was our first event to attend last year and we enjoyed it even more this year. Knoxville is an amazingly diverse and accepting city and we are so proud to be part of this event. The collaboration of gay, straight, male, female, black, white, young, old (and the list goes on) is just what Pride is about. Inclusion and Love ruled the day on Saturday and every day here in Knoxville.

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