Knoxville PrideFest 2016 Remembers Orlando, Celebrates a Better Future

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

It had to be different from last year. A year ago our LGBT community, along with their many supporters, friends and family in Knoxville and across the country celebrated PrideFest with a background of a looming supreme court decision with increasing confidence that ruling would legalize gay marriage. The event became a celebration of marriage equality. I’ve never been in a happier crowd.

This year should have been about consolidating those gains and looking at the challenges that still lie ahead, such as state-sanctioned discrimination that a number of southern states have recently enacted or considered. Instead, just seven days before our event, the focus in the LGBT community and far beyond, became the shootings in Orlando in which a gunman took forty-nine lives at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. No doubt many other lives will never be the same as the ripples impact survivors, families and LGBT communities everywhere.

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

And so it was, that something not on anyone’s mind for PrideFest or the parade became front-and-center in the days that led up to the events. A poignancy settled over the preparations and simple gestures resonated more strongly. The Knoxville Fire Department led the parade followed immediately by what would be a constant police presence throughout the day. I’ve never heard policemen thanked so many times as I heard that during the parade and festival. Supportive comments and actions by KPD representatives through the week laid a foundation for a positive relationship during the parade.

The first banner up displayed the caption, “Knoxville Stands with Orlando.” Numerous other references to Orlando were sprinkled throughout the remarks and banners throughout the parade and the festival. Festival goers signed the banner which lead the parade after it arrived at the World’s Fair Park. Other issues were noted, such as a sprinkling of signs about the transgender laws that have recently been discussed and enacted, but it was Orlando which would be the focus.

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

As was the case last year, numerous local church congregations participated, including Church of Christ, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian and the Metropolitan Church of Knoxville. Some brought what appeared to be dozens of members along with ministers, often wearing their stoles or vestments. Important last year, it seemed even more so this year. The church’s relation to the LGBT community is a complex one with a difficult past and present. It’s encouraging to see some effort to bridge differences and acknowledge human commonalities. There is still room for churches from our largest local denomination, should there be any Baptist churches willing to be the first.

The parade had to be the largest ever for Knoxville. I’d be surprised to learn it was any less than fifty percent larger than last year. There were also lots of fun touches, from skateboarding children wearing Egyptian headdresses to dogs on their personal floats. One spectacular addition and crowd favorite was a massive Dolly Parton puppet, larger than life like the celebrity herself, she was surrounded by other Dolly’s as she paraded.

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Also striking was the group with the bird puppets, flying in formation and showing their colors. I spotted a number of friends among the group and I suspect my friend Bran Rogers was behind the creatures. All the carriers also sported “Rise” t-shirts to emphasize the theme and it turned out it was Bran and his Theatre Obsolete. Numerous student groups joined the parade which has to be affirming for them and it is always moving to see the Carson Newman LGBT alumni given that if they were out while in school they likely would have been expelled. It has to encourage the current LGBT students there.

Local unions and workers groups joined the parade as did the local Democratic Party. Numerous family members held signs in the parade and along the way with PFLAG Maryville  having a strong contingent (there is also a PFLAG Knoxville Chapter, though if they were there, I didn’t spot them). One of my favorite moments along the parade route was watching a woman holding a sign that read, “Proud Pride Mom, Free Hugs, #No Hate,” give those hugs to a number of people marching in the parade. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them wished they could get a hug from their own mothers.

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pride Parade, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

The crowds along the way were amazing: diverse, large and loud. I watched most of the parade on the 100 block where a few had gathered, but toward the heart of Gay Street – toward the intersection of Gay and Union (:-)) – the crowds were so large it was hard to squeeze through and they ran all the way to the World’s Fair site across the Clinch Ave. viaduct. As I walked the parade route, this is where I first encountered protesters. At least one of the two groups on Gay Street had a megaphone and the crowds were so loud as they roared approval for the parade participants that they could not be heard.

Police also carefully stood guard in any spot which included protesters. A group situated themselves near the end of the parade and then they, or all the groups converged just outside the site of PrideFest. Helpfully, while they were given freedom to have their say, it was from across the street, not inside PrideFest. Police kept a constant vigil to make sure the conflict did not escalate. Police were also poised all around the perimeter of the site, which helped it feel safe, but also which underscored the fact that members of the LGBT community have had their feeling of safety shattered by Orlando.

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Mayor Rogero, Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Mayor Rogero, Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest included a large number of vendors, free HIV testing, and food trucks. As with the parade, the crowds continued to be large. Weather was very good, though after the parade and a bit of the festival, I needed shelter. I stayed long enough to hear Mayor Rogero’s great opening statement. I’ll not attempt to replicate the parts I can remember, simply because it was so well written. I hope the city will release it to the public so a larger group can appreciate it. We also stayed for the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus and Knoxville Opera, both enjoyable performances.

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

Pridefest, Knoxville, June 2016

In the end, it was another day to be proud of our city. Yes, there were protesters, but they probably amounted to less than half a percent of the people present and I suspected some number of them were from out of town. I reminded myself that in the not-too-distant past the numbers may have been reversed, with a small number marching while large crowds deriding them and we are certainly no longer there. I hope that the inclusiveness on display Saturday stretches past the borders of downtown. I hope our city can be a place where everyone is welcome.

Program note: The photographs shown here represent a small portion of the photographs I’ve taken and kept. I’ll have more later today or tomorrow on Inside of Knoxville’s Facebook Page. Be sure to check it out.

Comments

  1. Jeremy Wann says

    Thank you for your service to our citizens! So very many people read and love you and it’s so nice to have someone who is always in support of those things which are just.

  2. Mary Linda Schwarzbart says

    So proud of our community for its support of a safe Pride day. Thanks for your reporting and photos.

  3. Leticia Flores says

    Thanks, as always, Alan. A wonderful story about our citizens coming together to celebrate. I look forward to the day when the Pride Parade is as anticipated as our Biscuit and Dogwood Arts Festivals.

  4. An exceptionally well-written entry, Alan, with many insights. I’m glad you didn’t ignore the protest aspect, here. Yes, that’s just what I want directing my life….a god to be feared.

  5. If I might add that there will be an interdenominational church service tomorrow (6/21) at 7 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church on Broadway.. We will be celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Police security will be present. This service was planned before Orlando but has some significant changes in light of the recent events. PLEASE COME!

  6. Lillian Mashburn says

    It was a wonderful day. We are proud of Knoxville. Thank you for posting! We didn’t get to hear the Mayor’s talk,so I hope it is posted somewhere.

  7. urban brother says

    Beautiful day. Beautiful parade. Beautiful people. Amazing amounts of love being shown in so many ways. Thank you Knoxville for putting so much effort and love into this event.

  8. Colleen Scott says

    My dear sir: While I love your featured ten day planner for K’Ville, I am upset by your recent post commemorating the SCOUS ruling in support of the idea of gay marriage. Marriage originally was, and remains, a Catholic sacrament, not a political institution. What ever happened to the separation of church and state? Marriage was responsible for the elevation of women and children in societal status. While gay people are just as loved and protected by God, and should be also by any government, marriage is not up for grabs. I will never see the rationale for gay marriage.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I appreciate your opinion, though we disagree. Your question about the separation of church and state is a good one and, we agree, the lack thereof is a problem. If certain legal, state-granted rights are tied to marriage, then religion and the state are hopelessly blended. When we did that regarding insurance, visitation, etc., we hopelessly blended the two and the conversation became about rights. If it is to be that way, then marriage must be for everyone. Many of us aren’t Catholic.

      • Colleen Scott says

        Very clear statement of the core problem! But why so much “lobbying” for marriage, rather that the creation of parallel legal relationships? Such as documents recognized such as power of attorney — to enable loved ones to visit hospitals etc , and Binding Partnership Contracts regarding property inheritance, without copying another social institution and thereby subverting and trivializing the original intentions of it, and the social gains associated with it? Shallow understanding of History and this poverty and illness women and children, and lack of legal rights women had prior to the institution of Christian marriage. Remember the Harems in the Old Testament, for example?

        • Women can marry each other too hon. Once again, there is nothing saying churches have to perform the ceremony. Everyone outside of prison deserves equal rights, and the chance to be happy. Kindly remove your head from where you’ve put it. And maybe take a shower afterwards.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            Jeremy, if you’d stopped after the word “happy,” we’d all be better served. Keep it between the lines, friend.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          I think we tried “parallel legal relationships” when some states legalized civil unions for gay people. For many it felt like an inadequate, second-tier, “separate, but equal relationship.” Marriage became a state institution in the U.S. when married couples were allowed to have certain legal rights and privileges not accorded to others. It would seem if the Catholic Church was concerned with a blending of the two and a contamination of the institution of marriage, that would have been the time to express concern, rather than when this conversation emerged.

          You’ve got me curious, though. Strictly following your view, and I think what you’ve said expresses Catholic dogma, no marriages are recognized unless they are performed by the Catholic church. Meaning that other Christian groups, people belonging to other religions, etc. cannot “marry” by the Catholic Church’s definition. Is this correct? If so, if the U.S. followed that belief that would be favoring one religion over another, right? Which we don’t do as a country. Please forgive my, “shallow understanding of History.”

    • The Supreme Court decision only applies to the legal definition of marriage, as in a couple going into a courthouse and signing a certificate. It specifically grants protections for churches who choose not to perform the ceremony. Therefore, other peoples’ happiness does not affect you and you have no say.

  9. Brian Fink says

    Hi! Trying to find the photographer who took a photo of me and my mom with Chely Wright after her performance on June 18th. I would like to give a copy to my mom. He was an older gentleman, glasses, hat, dark shirt, shorts, with a high-tech camera taking photos all over the festival grounds. I would be more than happy to pay for shipping of prints if there is no electronic copy. This is a picture of me with Chely. Now I just need the one with my wonderful mom who came with me from NW Ohio to Knoxville. Thank you.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Wasn’t me. I don’t wear glasses or shorts. And I’m young. Very young. 🙂 I have one idea and I’ll check for you.

      • Brian Fink says

        Thank you, sir. I am having no luck and this would mean a lot to find the person and get the picture.

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