Although plans for last weekend’s Pride parade and festival were still up in the air just days before the festivities, the 21st annual event kicked off without a hitch and drew the largest crowd of the past decade.
Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents, which organizes the celebration, estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 people gathered for the parade and the festival at Penn’s Landing, far surpassing last year’s count of 6,000.
Price said that while the entertainment lineup may have fueled the high turnout this year, the weather probably also played a role. Temperatures at last year’s celebration topped out near 100 degrees, but on Sunday — after several days of rainstorms — the sky was clear with temps in the high 70s.
“The weather was beautiful, and I think people had cabin fever and were glad to get out,” she said.
Just four days before the event, the outlook was not so sunny as organizers met with city officials to negotiate what the city was planning to charge Philly Pride Presents for police presence — a cost the city previously covered but, late last year, discontinued because of its budget crisis.
One of the stipulations of the eventual price agreement shortened the parade route by several blocks, cutting out the parade’s traditional procession past longtime LGBT bookstore Giovanni’s Room at 12th and Pine, which Price said was unfortunate, but it turned out to be a successful move.
“I actually like this route better. I’m the biggest advocate for passing Giovanni’s Room, but this way there were more people lined up watching the parade, which was good for the morale of the people in the parade,” she said. “There were just rows and rows of people. And a lot of people in the parade and watching the parade came up to me and said, ‘I really like this way, please keep this.’”
More than 30 organizations participated in the parade, which stretched more than a mile from 13th and Locust, past the judges at the reviewing stand at Sixth and Market and down to Penn’s Landing. Openly lesbian ABC 6 news reporter Denise James served as this year’s parade announcer.
The contingent from Tavern on Camac took home the grand-prize Fruit Bowl from the parade and also won the Best Bar Float prize. Other winners included Mazzoni Center for Best Float; Woody’s/Pure for Best Bar; Passional Boutique for Best Decorated Vehicle; Independence Squares for Best Performing Theme; Men of All Colors Together for Best Nonperforming Theme; Veterans for Peace for Best Public Statement; Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia for Best Pride Day Theme; Flaggots for Best Marching With Music; William Way LGBT Community Center for Best Marching Without Music; The Attic Youth Center for Best Nonprofit Group; Fusion Drexel Hill Baptist Church for Best Nonprofit Float; Gay and Lesbian Friends of Lansdowne for Best Nonprofit Marching; Salotta Tea for Best Drag; and openly gay Court of Common Pleas Judge Dan Anders and Municipal Court Judge Dawn Segal for Best Duet.
Dozens of LGBT and mainstream organizations welcomed the cavalcade to Penn’s Landing for an afternoon of entertainment, education and networking. In honor of Flag Day, the St. Thomas Gospel Choir made its first appearance at Pride, singing the National Anthem, and Dena Underwood kicked off the festival with annual favorite “I Am What I Am.”
The stage was alive all day, as all-female band Betty returned for another Pride performance, along with entertainers Brittany Lynn, Ya Ya Delight, Daniel Gray, the Philadelphia Marching Band and Peter Danzig and Amie Robidoux from Quince Productions’ upcoming performance of “Full House.”
Headliner Alec Mapa from “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” brought his comedic flavor to Philly, which Price said was well-received by the crowd.
“Philadelphia just loved Alec Mapa,” she said. “They stayed around for a long time after his performance waiting for his autograph and were just really excited about him.”
The event also had a political bent, with Pride grand marshals Stephen Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and Rue Laundau, chair of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, calling on the community to mobilize behind such issues as the nondiscrimination bill currently in the state legislature. National politics were in the spotlight when U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-7th Dist.) and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D), making his first Pride appearance, took the stage.
Specter had an afternoon engagement and had to go on stage around 1 p.m., before the majority of the parade participants and spectators arrived at Penn’s Landing, but Chuck Volz, Philly Pride Presents senior advisor, said his participation was appreciated.
“We would have liked to have seen him sooner, but I understand his situation has recently changed,” Volz said, referring to Specter’s recent party change. “But everyone warmly received him.”
While Specter was a first-time participant in Pride, veteran attendee Michael Marcavage, and his supporters from Repent America returned this year with signs and microphones to preach against the gay community.
The protesters stationed themselves along the parade route and at the entrance to the festival.
Volz said he walked Sestak through the entrance and that the Congressman was one of many guests who were surprised by the protesters’ close proximity to the gate.
Volz said he spoke with police patrolling the entrance, who told him they were trying to give Marcavage and the protesters “some latitude” because of recent free-speech lawsuits the group filed.
Price said Repent America’s presence was a nuisance during the parade.
“The protesters were very annoying, especially around the reviewing stand,” she said. “Usually once a performance stops, they’re not allowed to interrupt, but they did and were so loud and rude, even while the Veterans for Peace were doing their salute to the fallen soldiers. It was so disrespectful.”
Overall, Price noted, the protesters’ attendance did little to dampen the mood of the crowd.
“There were so many people out there just enjoying the day, and it was great seeing Penn’s Landing filled to capacity like that,” she said. “And there was a whole new generation of people there, young people, who came out to celebrate. We saw a lot of new faces.”