Photo by LeakedGlass, courtesy of Phoenix Pride
I attended my first Pride event 30 years ago.
At the time, I was living in a northern suburb of Atlanta not known for its diversity. New to the area and charged with idealism, I invited a few friends to a picnic being organized by Pride activists on the town square. As we spread out our blanket, I was surprised to see so many different kinds of people. There were kids and parents, couples young and old, straight and gay, black and white. A local version of the AIDS Quilt was on display. I was overcome by the many names and sentimental items stitched into the material.
The crowd swelled over the course of the afternoon, and as the space between our blankets shrunk, we chatted with strangers, sampled wine, noshed on cheese and crackers, and shared homemade brownies. I spotted a colleague who had staked into the grass a giant banner emblazoned with just one word: “Equal”.
Within months, I had relocated to Midtown, Atlanta’s unabashedly “gay neighborhood,” where I could watch the raucous and joyful Pride Parade from my window. I lived in that neighborhood until I moved to Arizona.
Things are much different now than they were three decades ago. A national movement has spurred greater-than-ever acceptance of LGBTQ citizens, and just last year the United States Supreme Court recognized that same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to marry.
Founded in 1981, Phoenix Pride is part of a continuing crusade to promote unity, visibility and self-esteem among LGBTQ people and the larger community in the Valley and Arizona. The Pride Festival, held annually in April, is the city’s largest LGBTQ event, but Phoenix Pride works throughout the year to build partnerships and programming.
Jackson Kelly is the owner of Bliss ReBar, which is celebrating five years in Roosevelt Row, a downtown community he calls “all accepting, all encompassing.” Kelly, who has traveled to Pride events around across the U.S. and around the world, says he’s witnessed a sea of change in the growth of the Phoenix Pride Festival.
“I remember when Phoenix Pride was super secret,” he says. “Now it’s a 10-day event with a parade, big celebrity talent and concerts.”
Bliss is part of a group of individually operated, gay-owned restaurants called The Collection that includes Fez, Pizza People Pub, and Switch Restaurant and Wine Bar. Kelly says visitors who want to support gay-owned businesses should consider the Clarendon Hotel, one of the city’s most distinctive boutique properties.
The 42-year old native Phoenician has been with his partner for 19 years; he says he once thought “the level of conservatism [here] was unbreakable.” And though he may be busier during Pride, it’s the year-round patronage of locals and visitors that he most appreciates. “There’s a lot going on here and opportunities to be involved throughout the year.”
Kelly rattles off a partial list: the Equality Arizona Awards Dinner, the Gay Softball World Series, the Arizona Gay Rodeo, the one-n-ten Fresh Brunch in February, the Miss Gay Arizona America Pageant, the Rainbows Festival and Street Fair in October.
I ask Kelly if he thinks, because of the Supreme Court ruling and the movement’s momentum, this year’s Pride Festival might be even more celebratory.
Maybe, he says.
“But, really, it’s human nature to be around people with common interests. I’m looking forward to the day when gay is not an adjective, when it’s just normal.”
Phoenix Pride Festival
April 1-2, noon-9 p.m.
Steele Indian School Park
Phoenix Pride Parade
Sunday, April 2, 10 a.m.
Begins: 3rd Street & Thomas
Ends: 3rd Street & Indian School
About the author: Suzanne Wright
Suzanne Wright first stepped into the Sonoran Desert some 30 years ago and was immediately smitten. She has written for national publications such as National Geographic Traveler, USA Today and American Way, but she’s happiest exploring and writing about Arizona for regional outlets like AAA Arizona Highroads, Arizona Highways and the Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix.
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