Toledo Pride marks fifth year with biggest weekend yetWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sarah Ottney and Danielle Stanton, Toledo Free Press Managing Editor and Toledo Free Press News Editor
As Toledo Pride celebrates its five-year anniversary Aug. 22-24, organizers are marveling at the way the event has grown almost exponentially since the first Toledo Pride festival was held at Erie Street Market in 2010.
Executive Director Lexi Staples said she hoped for 1,000 attendees that first year — a goal even some fellow committee members thought was comically out of reach — but 2,500 people came out to show their support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community.
The following year, 5,000 showed up; the third year, 10,000; and last year, 15,000. This year, organizers were reluctant to estimate a number, but said they expect at least 15,000 to possibly as many as 25,000 to participate in the three-day event.
“I love being on the committee and watching the festival grow from 2,500 to potentially 25,000, and everybody coming together to support it,” said outreach coordinator Brent Rabie.
“It’s gotten bigger more quickly than we could have ever hoped or expected,” Staples said. “It’s just really cool to see the growth.”
“It’s our biggest and best year yet,” said marketing coordinator Kelly Heuss. “We definitely raised the bar.”
Growth of support
Food vendor coordinator Nicole Hayman said she had about eight food vendors last year; this year, the festival will feature 17 vendors, 14 of them local.
“Every year we’ve had to seek out food vendors. This year we actually had to turn people away,” said parade coordinator Torie Thorne. “People are starting to take us more seriously. Last year, people ran out of food because they didn’t believe we would actually have that many people. This year, they are like, ‘Oh, we’re prepared. We’ve been preparing all year.’”
As the event has grown, so has the number of business sponsorships within the community. Such companies as Fifth Third Bank, Owens Corning, TARTA, Yark Fiat and the Park Inn are participating this year, Heuss said.
“It’s really cool because we have really struggled with getting some of those supports in place initially,” Staples said. “When you’re first starting, it’s really hard to convince people that you can run a big event.”
Sherry Tripepi, executive director of Equality Toledo, said all of Ohio’s major cities had LGBTQ pride festivals six years ago, but not Toledo. The “remarkable” growth of Toledo Pride, Tripepi said, shows the need was there.
“I think overall, as issues rise, there’s always backlash,” she said. “I think especially with the younger generation there’s more acceptance, there’s more pride, there’s more celebration.”
Two years ago, 5K coordinator Justin Veigel said about 150 people signed up for the Nite Glo 5K on Friday night; this year, he expects 500 people.
“You don’t see it on a day-to-day basis, how much support we have in the community,” Veigel said. “Even over the last five years in this area we’ve seen a lot more support. I’m really excited again about the support this year and it’s really cool to see it grow and change and get better every year.”
Toledo Pride started in 2010 with “$900 and a dream,” Thorne said.
Shortly after opening lesbian bar OUTSKiRTS — which closed in May — Staples and her mom, Johanna Staples, were talking with Thorne about doing something to give back to the community.
“OUTSKiRTS has been the catalyst for a lot of really great [community events] and one of those things is Pride,” Staples said. “I was pretty excited and pretty adamant about it. We just wanted to create something for the city that we didn’t have before.”
After learning local LGBTQ nonprofit Equality Toledo was also interested in organizing a pride event, Staples reached out and they decided to work together using $500 from OUTSKiRTS, $400 from an anonymous donor and lots of volunteer hours.
“The first year it was really grassroots. We were making buttons, printing T-shirts. Everything was happening inside the bar,” Staples said. “It was probably seven to 10 of us planning. A few of those people didn’t come back, but a few of those core people have been involved the whole time.”
“Equality Toledo wanted to be able to have a place for the LGBT community to come together to be celebrated, to be proud of who we are, to have a safe place to have fun,” Tripepi said. “It absolutely was accomplished.”
In 2011, a parade was added. In 2012, the event expanded to three days. In 2013, Sandpiper boat rides were added. This year, organizers added KISS ‘N’ Drag, a charity CD and expanded Sunday Funday to a full day.
“Anytime an opportunity presents itself, we’re like, ‘That seems totally cool! We should do that!’” Staples said. “I don’t think we even realize we’re doing it.”
The festival acts as a support to people in outlying communities who don’t have an LBGTQ community to go to.
“It’s Toledo Pride but it’s definitely a regional event,” Heuss said.
“People are proud of it. People really embrace it,” Thorne said. “It’s clearly what was needed.”
Many people enjoy Toledo’s event because it’s smaller and more community-oriented than many pride events in larger cities, Staples said.
“It feels really community-based here,” she said. “I really like the feel of our event.”
“It’s like a big family reunion,” Thorne said.
Most Pride events happen in June so Toledo’s in August marks the end of Pride season.
“It’s like the last hurrah of summer,” Thorne said.
Heuss said the number of people at last year’s event was almost overwhelming compared to years past.
“It’s amazing,” Heuss said. “I was walking on the side of the parade route [last year] and came to Summit Street. There were so many people watching the parade, I almost cried.”
“Every year it’s grown so much, it’s awe-inspiring and scary at the same time,” said entertainment coordinator Mandisa Sherife-Kekulah. “What does that mean for next year? It makes you want to pull your hair out, but it shows there’s so much love.”
Staples said she’s excited when she thinks about the future of Toledo Pride.
“I’ve talked to Columbus Pride and it’s really neat to get feedback about what’s worked for them because they’ve been doing it so long and get, like, 400,000 people. We’re not even in the same hemisphere,” Staples said. “But they’re at year 30 and we’re at year five, so we might have 400,000 people by year 30, who knows? There’s got to be a plateau point, but I don’t know where that is. I think it’s feasible for us to look at numbers like 50,000 by year 10. That might be something we can easily reach.”
Organizers will meet in the coming months to start formulating a game plan for the next five years.
“I get excited thinking about what we could do futuristically,” Staples said. “We’re putting together a strategic planning session sometime after the dust has settled on this year’s Pride to get us up to year 10 and figure out where we want to be and what we want to be doing. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see where this goes.”
Toledo Free Press is media sponsor for Toledo Pride. For more information, visit toledopride.com.
2014 schedule of activities
- 8:30 p.m.: Nite Glo 5K ($18-$23 in advance/$30 day of) and one-mile fun run/walk/roll ($15 in advance, $20 day of) at University of Toledo Centennial Mall, registration starts at 7 p.m.
- 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.: KISS ‘N’ Drag kickoff party sponsored by 92.5 KISS FM, at Promenade Park, featuring DJ 3 PM and drag shows. Admission $8, or $5 with a canned food item to benefit Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank.
- Noon: Parade starts on Washington Street at the intersection of Ontario Street, crosses the Owens Corning bridge at North Summit Street and finishes at Promenade Park. Entrance to Toledo Pride is $5 for adults, $7 after 7 p.m. and free for children younger than 18.
- 12:45 p.m.: Breaking Ground
- 1:55 p.m.: Drag performances: Gina Arnaz, Porsha Armani
- 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.: Sandpiper boat rides, 40 minutes each, dock on the Jefferson Street side of Promenade Park, $6 or two for $10.
- 2:20 p.m.: Kids with Knives
- 3:35 p.m.: Dumb Easies
- 4:50 p.m.: Bird’s Eye View Circus Space contemporary circus acts
- 5 p.m.: Drag show: Muffy Fishbasket
- 5:20 p.m.: Chavar Dontae
- 5:55 p.m.: Drag show: Santana Romero, Makayla Sinclair Styles, Tequila Mockingbird, Feliciana Thunderpussy, Muffy Fishbasket
- 6:25 p.m.: Bird’s Eye View Circus Space contemporary circus acts
- 6:45 p.m.: Flabongo Nation
- 8:10 p.m.: Arctic Clam
- 9:30 p.m.: Eryn Woods
- 9:55 p.m.: Drag show: Ava Aurora Foxx & Brook Lockhart, Amaya Sexton, Amber Stone
- 10:20 p.m.: Rye Rye
- 10:45 p.m.: Drag show: Deja D. Dellataro, Bois with Outskirts
- 11 p.m.: Pastele
- 11:25 p.m.: Drag show: T-Town Tassels, London Asia, Amaya Sexton, Farrah CT
- Noon to 3 p.m.: Free Sunday Funday at Promenade Park featuring family-friendly activities for kids.
- 3-10 p.m.: Sunday Funday continued at Promenade Park, featuring food, drinks and entertainment, including Steel Wynd, Calvin Green, Johnnie Mae, Tiffany Covington, Sam Tolson, Joe Woods, The Blood Sisters featuring Barbara Payton and Midnight Flowers interspaced with drag performances, magic performances and performances by Bird’s Eye View Circus Space. $3 for adults, free for children younger than 18.
See www.toledopride.com for full schedule.
All times and events subject to change.
Tags: Toledo PRIDE