Pride in the Park: Akron Holds Inaugural Pride Festival

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words by Sierra Allen

Although LGBT Pride Month is officially in June, Akron is continuing the celebration with its inaugural Pride Festival. With the support of Mayor Horrigan, corporate sponsors and dedicated committee members, both the LGBTQ community and allies will come together for a celebration, offering support and inclusivity.

Deanna Lottman, President and founder of Akron Pride is the muscle behind the festival and wanted to host it in August so Akron could make a name for itself without competing with larger events. She also acknowledges that this is not Akron’s first event geared towards the LGBTQ community.

“I will never downplay what you guys have done in the past,” Lottman said to Carol Barlow and Cindy Christman, who have been in Akron’s LGBTQ scene since the late 60s. “I never wanted to come off as disrespectful to my elder LGBT people who have fought all these years for the rights that we have and what they didn’t have.”

From Barlow’s memory, the first pride festival was “Out in Akron” around 1999. It took place in Highland Square for three days, which remains a “hot spot” for the LGBTQ community. Over the years, the community has held events like Day in the Sun, We are Family, We are Family 2 and Flair Fest. In 2014, Akron was even home to The Gay Games, the world’s largest sporting and cultural event for LGBTQ athletes, artists and musicians, where 48 states and 50 countries were represented. Alongside those festivals, organizations like the Akron Pride Center and Stonewall promoted safe sex and AIDS awareness, as does CANAPI today.

“There has always been things going on for our community, just nothing as big as what Dee is doing,” Barlow said. “Our fundraisers were word of mouth, supported and funded by our community. Dee’s inspiration is to have an actual festival.”

To create a nice flow, Hardesty Park will be strategically laid out with food trucks and vendors. The Akron Children’s Art Museum and Weathervane Playhouse will have a kid’s sections for face painting and different activities. Two stages will provide entertainment with performances by local bands on one and DJs and drag queens on the other, while music of every genre is played.

Big acts include Martha Wash, famous singer of “It’s Raining Men,” and Britney Spears impersonator, Derrick Barry from Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The day of the festival, there will be a march at 11:00 AM starting at West Market Street and North Highland Avenue. Participants will march to Hardesty Park to kick off the activities.  “We are asking everybody to participate. It’s a march for equality and we want everyone represented: straight, gay, immigrant, refugee, all minorities,” said Christman. “Everybody has a state in equality and that’s what the march is about.”

Since marriage equality was granted to the LGBTQ community, Christman believes that people think they have equal rights, which is untrue. Many people have been denied jobs and public housing and need to know that there’s a community to support them. That’s part of what inspired the festival.

“The LGBTQ movement needs to continue to move forward, grow and be bigger,” said Lottman. “Every generation has their struggle, and we still have our struggles today. They need to continue to reach out to the community with the allies as well. We are human beings and we need support just like everyone else.”

Although we’ve come a long way from when physical contact was labeled “lude and lasciviousness” by law, the LGBTQ community still has a fight and are determined to continue fighting.

“There’s an old saying,” said Barlow. “We’re here, we’re queer and we’re not goin’ anywhere.”

To volunteer or find out more information about Akron Pride Festival and the Equality March on August 26, check out akronpride.org.

(photos courtesy of Akron Pride)

Sierra Allen is a senior at Kent State University pursuing her degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for TDS and Ohio Magazine and is a self-proclaimed interior designer thanks to HGTV.

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