In the 12 years since its inception, Lancaster Pride Festival has grown considerably, from a modest start contained in local gay bar Tally-Ho Tavern in 2006 to the 7,000-large crowd that filled its center city Binns Park location in 2017.
This year, festival chair Zac Nesbitt predicts attendance rates to potentially double, anticipating between 10,000-15,000 attendees.
Luckily, they have the space.
The 2018 edition of Lancaster Pride will take over eight blocks of Water Street in downtown Lancaster, with bookends at the Culilton Park Main Stage to the south and Mayor Janice Stork Park to the north. The move from last year’s Binns Park location was in response to a large construction project affecting more than half of the available event space.
The good news is the switch to Water Street means the $5 entrance fee charged in previous years has been dropped and replaced by a suggested donation.
“The logistics of an eight-block street festival that winds its way through residential streets made blocking off the event space impossible,” said Nesbitt. “In the absence of physical barriers to Pride, we chose to try and remove financial barriers to Pride as well.”
Nesbitt says nixing the cost of admission also fits with Lancaster Pride’s aim of inclusivity.
In the four years he’s organized Pride with co-chair Rowena Stein, Nesbitt says he and Stein have prioritized holding a festival that is both accessible to the entire LGBTQ community and receptive to suggestions for improvement.
“We’ve focused on things like accessibility, whether that’s easier mobility for those with physical disabilities or the addition of ASL interpreters on our main stage,” Nesbitt said. “We’re sending a clear message of inclusion, and I think that resonates.”
Nesbitt thinks the communicative relationship he and Stein have built with the Lancaster LGBTQ community has influenced Pride’s yearly growing numbers. Nesbitt said that a “drastic increase” in the young people in attendance shows that Pride’s adaptations are being well-received by the next generation of the LGBTQ community.
This year’s collection of events, which has expanded through the week preceding the Sunday festivities, is sure to appeal to a multi-generational crowd.
In the week before Pride Festival, there’s a poetry and Pride reading, a day-drinking Tea Party, a film screening and a beer crawl for bears: Bear Crawl, as well as a mystery event at venue Tellus360.
New additions to the Sunday festival include alcohol, available for purchase at a new beer garden, along with a series of speakers to join the bill of musical acts set to perform at the Culilton Park Main Stage. The list of performers is yet to be confirmed, but will be available on Lancaster Pride’s Facebook page before the event.
Finally, expect to find food, arts and crafts for sale and lots of drag, including a pop-up stag dedicated to a drag open mic for potential performers at Pride Festival.
For Nesbitt, who grew up in southern Lancaster County, where he remembers seeing small Klan rallies as a child, the response he’s received from organizing Lancaster Pride every year has been both surprising and humbling.
“Lancaster City has been an incredibly supportive and welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community for decades We receive tremendous support from businesses, organizations and many of the churches in the city,” Nesbitt said. “Outside the city, we know that our community isn’t as celebrated, so that’s all the more reason to make Lancaster Pride more visible, more bold and more inclusive. It sends a very strong message.”
Lancaster Pride will be held June 24, noon-6 p.m. along Water Street from Conestoga to James streets. The event is pay-what-you-wish. For a full list of events visit: https://www.facebook.com/LancasterPAPride/.