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The Washington Blade
Politics, pageantry mark D.C. Pride parade and festival: Election year themes mix with entertainment
Lou Chibbaro Jr. And Bryan Anderton
June 18, 2004
Washington Blade - June 18, 2004

Mother Nature cooperated beautifully last weekend as thousands of people came together in D.C. to celebrate the annual Capital Pride Parade and Festival.

"It was Spectacular," said Chip Lewis, communications chair for Capital Pride, the annual weeklong series of events produced by the Whitman-Walker Clinic.

Lewis said Capital Pride officials estimate that 200,000 people turned out for the Sunday, June 13, Pride Day Festival, though police have discontinued the practice of issuing official crowd estimates.

One day earlier, with sunny weather and a mild 76-degree temperature, a large and exuberant crowd lined the streets of D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood for the Capital Pride Parade.

The parade was noticeably larger than last year's, with nearly 100 entries participating compared to about 75 in 2003.

Highlights included continuous performances by the D.C. Different Drummers, the city's gay marching band; a large continent of moms, dads and children marching with the Metro D.C. chapter of Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays; and several sleek, white stretch limos carrying local, award-winning drag performers.

Similar to past years, the parade drew large contingents of gays and their supporters from a wide range of religious denominations as well as gay sporting groups.

The Rainbow Spinnakers Sailing Club traveled atop a float crafted into a sailboat. Young men in skimpy bathing suits rode along a "beach" float sponsored by Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant of Crystal City, Va., which won an award for the most original float.

Other contingents included a "family" on a country-western float sponsored by the Capitol Hill gay bar Remington's, a group of "Hairspray"-esque skaters representing Monday Night Skating, and, of course, the requisite hard-bodied gym bunnies on a float for Results the Gym.

The parade kicked off about 6:30 p.m. at 22nd and P Streets, NW, traveled along P Street to Dupont Circle and entered New Hampshire Avenue before turning south on 17th Street. With crowds as wide as eight people deep, the parade continued along 17th Street before ending at 17th and N Streets.

"This is awesome," 25-year-old Amanda Chisolm, of Rockville, Md., said immediately after the parade passed where she was standing. "This is my first time here, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. But it was a blast. I'll definitely come back next year." "It was probably the largest crowd I've ever seen, and certainly the most energetic," said Lewis.

Parade turns political But it wasn't all fun and games. With the backdrop of a potential constitutional amendment banning gay marriage looming in Congress while, at the same time, the nation's first state-sanctioned gay marriages began taking place last month in Massachusetts, the evening also presented an important opportunity for participants to bring their political messages to the masses.

For many, President Bush was the main target. Staff members and volunteer supporters with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay political group, greeted the crowds on a float atop a giant flat bed truck while handing out stickers reading "George W. Bush: 'You're Fired.'" The HRC float, which was greeted with loud applause, came as the group announced it had endorsed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Dozens of volunteers strolled throughout the parade route attempting to register new voters by asking them if they wanted to help remove Bush from office. Volunteers for the Kerry campaign also waded into the crowds handing out Kerry-for-president stickers.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), who walked the entire parade route, led a contingent of city government officials, including eight members of the D.C. Council and several Council candidates as well as D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Among the other elected officials were Council members David Catania (R-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), both of whom are gay. Other Council members participating in the parade were Carol Schwartz (R-At-Large), Harold Brazil (D-At-Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8).

Among those not appearing in the parade was former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who announced last week that he is challenging Allen for the Ward 8 Council seat in the September Democratic primary.

With the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, the main stage of the Capital Pride Festival at Third St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW, became a site where entertainers performed and a handful of gay activists reminded the crowd of the event's 2004 theme: "Pride + Vote = Power." Entertainers included singer-songwriters Namoli Brennet, Melissa Ferrick, Ari Gold, Simone Denny, and Sophie B. Hawkins. Also appearing on stage was Wes Culwell, the winner of the Bravo television show, "Boy Meets Boy." Matthew Cusick, the gay acrobat who was fired from the Canadian circus company, Cirque del Soleil, spoke about HIV/AIDS discrimination and his legal fight with the circus company.

The four-block long festival, which ended at Seventh and Pennsylvania, included a record 180 booths consisting of gay organizations and companies ranging from American Express and America Online to small, local arts and crafts shops. Booths set up by U.S. Airways and the newly established airline company, Independence Air, appeared to compete with each other for gay business, as crowds hovered over both booths seeking discount coupons offered by gay employees who staffed the booths.

A booth sponsored by the Democratic National Committee for the Kerry-for-president campaign and staffed by members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club drew a steady stream of people eager to pick up Kerry stickers.

"They're flying off the table," said Stein Club President David Meadows. Meadows said hundreds of people from the D.C. area, as well as festival participants from up and down the East Coast, signed up for e-mail lists organized by gay Kerry supporters.

A separate booth sponsored by the Log Cabin Republicans of D.C. drew fewer people, but those who stopped by were sympathetic to the group's goals, according to LCR/DC president Brian Pruitt.

Pruitt said people familiar with gay politics knew Log Cabin has been campaigning against the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, despite the fact that President Bush supports the amendment.

The third major political party in the District, the Statehood Greens, did not participate in Pride.