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Stonewall Pride Festival Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Hannah Herner Hannah Herner Stonewall Pride Festival Celebrates 35th AnniversaryPhoto by Sally Wenxin Xia.
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The 35th Annual Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival is set to kick off Friday afternoon in Goodale Park.

Karla Rothan, Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus, has been involved for 19 of the festival’s 35 years. She said that when she started getting involved as a volunteer, they had about 15,000 people in attendance and it was a one-day festival. For this year’s festival, they’re expecting 400,000 attendees over the course of Friday and Saturday.

Last year, the festival had to close early due to rainy weather, but this weekend’s forecast calls for clear skies and sunshine, which will allow the 50+ performance acts and roughly 200 vendors taking part to showcase their work.

With Columbus currently ranked with the second largest pride festivals in the Midwest, Rothan believes that Columbus could surpass Chicago to take the top spot this year.

“We have one of the largest attended festivals and marches in the country, really,” said Rothan.

Chicago’s 47th annual pride festival is also set to take place this weekend, with their parade taking place separately, on June 26. Last year, Chicago’s parade attracted approximately one million people, with the festival garnering an attendance of an estimated 50,000.

Aptly, “35 Years of Stonewall Columbus” is the theme of this year’s parade, which is set to start at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Rothan said that the dignitaries that started the organization are going to be marching along with the three founders of Stonewall Columbus in celebration of this landmark.

Mayor Ginther will be cutting a 35th Anniversary ribbon to start the parade, which will be held by Columbus City Councilmember Shannon Hardin and Columbus Board of Education member and former Councilmember Mary Jo Hudson, who are both openly gay.

The grand marshall of this year’s parade is Lana Moore, captain of the Columbus Division of Fire, who came out as transgender in 2008 and transitioned on the job. She will be marching alongside over 300 city employees and members of the division of police and division of fire.

In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, Rothan said that the organization has met with Columbus Police Department’s Chief Jacobs and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that festival goers can safely enjoy the weekend’s festivities.

“We are beefing up all of our security, and we are educating the public about ‘if you see something say something’ which is really important,” she stated. “We’ll have the maximum amount of security.”

She added that after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, parades and other heavily attended events — including the Stonewall Pride Festival — had to up their security anyway. Stonewall now spends over $20,000 on special duty officers for the event, and Rothan said that the city of Columbus spends “tens of thousands of dollars” to support those efforts on their own to ensure safety.

One of the Pride festival’s biggest events is the parade, which will feature more than 200 organizations this year — a number that has grown immensely since the first parade in 1981.

“Back then there were about 75 people marching — and they marched with bags on their heads or in disguise, in fear of losing their jobs,” says Rothan. “No corporations or politicians or businesses would be seen with us. But by 2015, every major company, every small business, everybody is involved in this parade and people are out and proud and they want to be a part of it.”

While the parade always garners attention, Rothan says a perhaps lesser-known facet of the festival are the areas designed to accomodate festival goers of all ages. One such area is the family area, which will feature face painting, artists, games and a bounce house, among other activities. The Teen Village is organized by and for festival-goers ages 13-19. Teens will be presenting performance art on Friday and Saturday. And the Trailblazers area offers shade, food and drink and a place to rest for ages 50-plus.

Every year it takes over 500 day-of volunteers, in addition to the team of 24 that work on organizing the festival year-round.

There is no charge for admission to the festival, but Stonewall Columbus asks that attendees donate $5 to the organization each day they attend. Wristbands and dog tags will be offered at $10 to support the organization as well.

For more information, visit www.columbuspride.org.

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