Memphis Pride Fest is kicking off today and promising one of the biggest events for the LGBTQ community of the Mid-South. There seems to be something for everyone this year with a full weekend of events all over the city. With over 10,000 people expected to attend, this year’s Memphis Pride Fest will be the biggest yet in its 14 year history.
“Pride means Love. Love for my community, love for my wife, and love for the service I do to make this city a better place…”
This year’s Memphis Pride Fest will begin with the Big Gay Dance Party hosted by Status: Memphis at the New Daisy Theater tonight. The party will begin at 8 pm as Friends For Life “transforms the New Daisy Theatre for ONE NIGHT ONLY … And kick off Memphis Pride Fest in the loudest and proudest way possible!”, according to the Facebook event.
Tomorrow is the main event with the 14th Annual Memphis Pride Festival in Robert Church Park starting at 10 am, followed by the parade down Memphis’ historic Beale Street at 1 pm. Numerous organizations and groups from the Memphis area will be marching together along with every day community members, some Pride veterans and others Pride virgins.
Things will wrap up on Sunday at Celtic Crossing with the Brunch Crawl starting at 1pm, eventually ending at Railgarten at 4pm.
Earlier this week, the Pacific Tribune spoke with Vanessa Rodley, president of Mid-South Pride who is excited about the upcoming event and shared some details about what to expect this weekend. What used to be a one day festival was expanded to a 3-day event last year to offer a variety of Pride events to participate in, according to Rodley. “The community spoke out and we listened.”, she said. “We expect to grow interest in the organization and expand the celebration because it couldn’t be contained to just one day. Next year we plan to expand even more, so keep a look out.”
Being as most major cities host their Pride events in the month of June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, quite a few people have been asking why Memphis Pride Fest is no longer done at this time. Rodley had this to say, “The heat was a major factor in the decision, and also, we wanted less competition with the major cities’ Prides. When we originally moved the date, it was decided to base it around October which is LGBTQ History Month. Now, we have it in Sept for ideal weather odds.”
The events of this weekend will kick off an entire month of LGBTQ events around the world such as Spirit Day on October 10th, on this day people worldwide dress in the color purple (which symbolizes Spirit in the Gay Pride flag) to raise awareness for LGBTQ suicide and to combat bullying. This is followed by National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11th. As well, the LGBTQ community’s observance of the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming on October 12, 1998.
Members of the LGBTQ community of Memphis are definitely excited about Memphis Pride Fest. Hunter Burton is a gay male who has never attended Memphis Pride Fest and said, “It’s the one event where I can be me and show how I feel about this day. A place where I can make new friends and contacts. It’s the one time a year for us to enjoy and celebrate!”
Burton later added, “Pride represents what being gay is; the struggle we have fought in the past. We have come so far from where we use to stand. Also, people are a so much more accepting of it now. Although, of course, you’re gonna have that percent that still refuses to accept it. That’s when we just come back stronger and keep spreading how proud we are to live here.”
Local drag performer Aubrey Ombre said of her six years having attended Memphis Pride Fest, “The best part to me is the performances and watching the kids smile and sing because we hardly have things in the community for kids like shows.”
Justin Andrew, a local gay man who has been attending this festival for the last ten years and grew up in and around the Memphis gay community said, “Pride means to me being strong, and confident in- and for, not only yourself but, for anyone that may need standing up for against any adversity.” He continued to say, “I most love the part of Pride when everyone is walking around enjoying the booths, booze, socializing, and catching the outside shows.”
Often Pride events get somewhat of a bad rep for not always being inclusive and diverse, however, Mid-South Pride works very hard with the community to ensure everyone feels welcome and invited. Rodley explained what they do to ensure an inclusive event, “Our festival has always been an all-inclusive celebration. We pride ourselves in being a safe place for all to express themselves. We work with many many ethnicity’s, not only at the festival, but year-round at multiple events. This year Latino Memphis has a large tent housing multiple groups to reach out to our Latino brothers and sisters. We fully support Black Prides here in Memphis and attended mostly all of the events held in June offering support and doing live broadcast to promote their cause. Tri-State Black Pride will have a booth at our festival as well. We stand beside our Trans community and attended and helped with the production of the Trans Rally this year at Overton Park. Also, Kayla Gore, a Trans woman and community activist, is one of our Grand Marshals because we believe she embodies the spirit of a strong and true leader and she has the heart of a warrior.”
When asked if Aubrey Ombre has ever felt unwelcome as a Trans woman of color she emphatically stated, “For me honestly, I never felt any kind of bad or uneasy feeling being at Pride; it’s our biggest part of the year. Although I do wish one day that both prides will combine and make everyone happy, but until then, we are happy with what we as a community have already.”
Vanessa, alongside her wife Jennifer Murry-Rodley, has worked for Mid-South Pride for the past ten years, “We saw the need years ago and when we opened our mouths to give ideas, we were handed a clip board and told to help.,” she laughed. “On top of that, we have a natural urge to help and give back to the community. This work is not for the faint at heart and it is quite difficult to do year-round, but when your heart tells you to serve, you listen.”
Rodley concluded by saying, “We want people to know that our festival is not just for the LGBTQIA Community. It is for our children, our straight allies, those whom don’t subscribe to a letter in the alphabet, and those who have pride in their heart. Pride has been a long standing celebration throughout history of both good and bad. It is about the triumphs and the battles we had to fight to get those triumphs, so i would tell them that they should come and celebrate Pride and whatever that means to them. Pride means Love. Love for my community, love for my wife, and love for the service I do to make this city a better place each and every day.”
For any more information, please check out www.midsouthpride.com where you can sign up to volunteer, donate, and learn about the hard working organization that makes Memphis Pride Fest possible.