Essay: PrideFest

Jun 5, 2015

Milwaukee's first summer festival gets underway at 3:00 this afternoon. PrideFest is a celebration of LGBT culture and accomplishments.

Essayist Paul Masterson is on the board of Milwaukee Pride, which plans the festival.  He says it's appropriate that Pride Fest is happening on the first anniversary of marriage equality in Wisconsin:

It's PrideFest weekend and our first anniversary of marriage equality in Wisconsin! If there was ever a reason to celebrate, this it it. I've been a member of Milwaukee Pride's board of directors for a decade. Yet every year I continue to be amazed by the diversity of our community. In our struggle for equality, whether fighting against our oppressors, or even between ourselves, this is the one time of year when we are able to appreciate the vibrancy and diversity of our community. It's so rare that we can separate ourselves from our political battles and just celebrate being LGBT.

In all modesty, PrideFest truly is the grandest celebration of LBGT culture in the Midwest and perhaps the entire country. In recent years we've consistently topped well over 30,000 visitors. Other cities may have bigger events with larger attendance but the sheer breadth of our offerings is unsurpassed.

Think of our humble beginnings at Juneau Park, who would have thought we'd be sharing Henry Meier Festival Grounds with GermanFest, Festa Italiana, and IrishFest. Well, maybe IrishFest since Ireland just voted for marriage equality. They've finally come around, haven't they?

PrideFest is now recognized as one of the most inclusive, safe and welcoming Pride events in the country. We offer everything from exotic belly dancers to a volleyball tournament with everything in between. Where else can families frolic with furries and the Abbey of the Brew City Sisters party with priests and leather guys? Of course, no Milwaukee festival would be complete without brats and fireworks and we have that too.

Entering the gates with the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays serving as a welcoming committee I think of my dear departed mom. I'm sure she would have joined them. As a good Irish Catholic she may have been befuddled by the whole gay thing but, as a big band singer from Brooklyn, and having grown up among Jews, Germans and African Americans, she embraced the world with all its richness and its many characters. She would have felt quite at home at PrideFest especially with its dozen stages showcasing great music and the kind of entertainment she loved.

Meanwhile, for today's LGBT family, the Stonewall Stage provides educational conversations on foster parenting, family law, birth options and much, much more. You can also receive our LGBT past at the History Project display. Of course, for a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle, there's the Wom!n's Spot Lounge and Cafe, offering live entertainment with a Sapphic touch.

Really, there's something for everyone, whether Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, or just plain queer...or straight, I've noticed the straight couples there with the girlfriend holding extra tight onto her man.

And, for the young and restless, the Dance Pavillion's international DJ line-up keeps things throbbing and pounding to the latest music mixes. Trixie Mattel, our own hometown drag queen who made it big on RuPaul's Drag Race, brings her exclusive Trixie's Funhouse to add to the Dance Pavillion experience.

I could go on and on and on. But, what truly amazes me about Milwaukee Pride is that it is entirely run by volunteers under the unflappable guidance of its president, Scott Gunkel. Hundreds of volunteers dedicate their time, talent and spirit to what is certainly Milwaukee's finest celebration of LGBT life and culture. I can honestly say, straight or gay, this is one fest you cannot miss.

Paul Masterson writes about LGBT issues for the Shepherd Express and Quest magazine and is art and culture director at Milwaukee Pride.