So what really is the best part of working behind the scenes at one of the largest LGBT Pride events in the country? The longtime activist in me says it's the clean bathrooms with no lines and a truck full of cold water, but the queer kid who has still not grown up (at least not yet) takes away a memory of watching, hearing and feeling thousands of us make the air vibrate and the ground shake while Martha Wash sings "It's Raining Men."
Here's bit of a peek behind the scenes at Capital Pride - the best Pride parade and festival DC has seen in years. It was a great example of what we can do as a community when we work together and a tremendous display of what pride really is all about.
First, how about that parade Saturday night? It was the biggest ever, with over 130 contingents in this year's parade bringing out tens of thousands of spectators. The winning float was an extraordinary recreation of the Wizard of Oz by Nellie's Sports Bar. It took all my strength not to jump on - but I was working after all.
The parade was a snapshot of our diverse community: families with strollers, drag queens galore, beefy boys and go-go girls, every religious denomination (including Seventh Day Adventists) and a quintessentially DC series of contingents of Federal workers. The mayor once again displayed a pretty good arm tossing green beads, and the city council (sans Marion Barry) and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton were all on hand to be part of the celebration.
The grand marshals were our hometown heroes, including Lilli Vincenz and Frank Kameny - two founding members of the gay movement in DC. The crowd on the streets was bigger and more diverse than ever. After working that I really needed a drink, and grabbed one with the DC for Marriage folks at the Madison Hotel (which felt like the LGBT community center this weekend, kudos to them for all they did for Capital Pride).
The festival the next day started early for the folks who work it and I was no exception. I was on the phone at 7:30 a.m., calling the local media to make sure they were sending crews and confirming attendance. Then it was down to the site for a day of wrangling and hanging backstage. As a sponsor, is was great to get a couple of minutes on stage to say hello and wish everyone happy pride (and get in a nudge to everyone to be more visible and involved).
And I swear my daughter picked out that Dorothy outfit (with Toto as accessory) on her own to come on stage with my partner and I. Rosemary "gets" our community - too bad the parade was past her bedtime as she could have ridden on that float.
The talent and speakers, on a stage with the U.S. Capitol as backdrop on Pennsylvania Ave., was a perfect assemblage of the theme: Generations of Pride: Celebrate & Remember.
We had activists like Frank Kameny and Lilli onstage, as well as the highest ranked openly gay official in the Obama Administration John Berry (great speech, hope those promises are kept!).
We also had the DC Cowboys (hot hot hot) and our best and most fabulous local talent. Finally, we had a few out of town guests. Martha Wash had the most fabulous energy and clearly loves us as much as we love her. She kicked off her shoes and sang her heart out as thousands sang with her. Then RuPaul closed us out with a great set and was whisked off to the next gig in what must be a dizzying month for the queen of drag.
And while the fun part of working is seeing the action, there is also the chance to see a large group of people come together to deal with every little detail (including the unexpected problems) and make it all look seamless. Our stage manager Jennifer was cool as a cucumber all day (no small feat, you try wrangling all that talent in the hot sun) and the volunteers stepped up to make it all look effortless. This is an organization with only a couple of paid staff, a fantastic working board and amazing volunteers.
Was there drama backstage? Hell, yeah. I am sure we all have a few more gray hairs thanks to certain unmentionable talent. Did it pale in comparison to watching the faces in the crowd have a great time? Absolutely. It is increasingly meaningful for me to see the younger and younger faces in the crowd - one young girl in particular, who through the fencing stopped me and asked if I could take a snapshot of one of the performers for her, since she was caught on the side of the stage and the fence blocked a full view.
After getting the shot, she said "you are so lucky to be in there." I could not help but say "get involved and next year it could be you, this is the most fun working you will ever have." As I said to the crowd with my family on stage earlier in the day, I want my daughter to grow up and say to me "What was all that fuss about when I was little, did you really have to do all that to get married, etc etc?"
Yes, Dorothy, we did. But we're not in Kansas anymore.