History of Pride Central PA Pride Festival
The Stonewall Uprising
Just after 3 a.m. on Saturday June 28, 1969, a group of New York City Police officers, uniformed and plain clothes from the public morals division raided the Stonewall Inn, a mafia owned bar located on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. The Stonewall was one of a handful of dancing bars and catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was widely known to be popular with the most marginalized people in the gay community, drag queens, hustlers and effeminate young men.
Social norms at the time were very discriminatory towards homosexuals and very few establishments welcomed openly gay people. 49 states and most cities had laws prohibiting homosexuality. Businesses that did serve gay patrons tended to be bars that were regularly targeted, raided and shut down with little or no resistance. Fearful gay patrons often complied for fear of being “outed” and were often physically forced out of their gathering places, sometimes beaten and arrested, with no just cause.
In the resulting publicity after such raids, it wasn’t uncommon for gay men and lesbians to be exposed in newspapers, fired from their jobs, jailed or worse sent to mental institutions.
As the Stonewall patrons were pushed out onto the street that early morning, a crowd gathered watching as people were arrested. When the police began to physically force individuals into a paddy wagon, the crowd of patrons and local sympathizers, led by drag queens erupted into violent resistance against the officers. Word spread quickly about the confrontation. That night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. Outraged masses gathered on subsequent nights to protest the mistreatment inflicted upon the gay community, launching the modern LGBT civil rights movement.
On the 1st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, gay pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City near the Stonewall Inn. Marches were held every year to honor the “Saints of Stonewall” bold rebellion against government persecution of LGBT people and to inspire people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights and equality for all people.
Over time, these marches evolved into the parades and festivals known as Pride. Today LGBT Pride events are held all around the world to commemorate a movement that began with a small group of people at a little bar in Greenwich Village, to celebrate the strides we’ve made and to dedicate ourselves to the work that is still left to be done.
History of the Pride Festival of Central PA Picture
In the late 1980’s a group of individuals held the very first gay pride event in the Harrisburg area, called “Open Air.”
At the time, organizers discussed how people might be afraid or unwilling to attend a “Gay Pride” event in this socially conservative area. After much collaboration, the organizers chose the name “Open Air,” to represent the fact that the community could come together in the light of day.
Pink helium balloons served as the “signal” at the otherwise unremarkable entrance to the festival held outside Harrisburg at the Police Athletic Grounds along Linglestown Road.
“Open Air” was held for two consecutive years, organized by the volleyball team that used the Police Athletic League Building on N. 3rd St in Harrisburg, the present day Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center.
The event moved a few times including being hosted at Ski Round Top, the Harrisburg Area Community College and then to Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park and has grown into what we know of today as the Pride Festival of Central PA,
According to Dan Miller, the first openly gay Harrisburg City Council member, the first actual Pride Festival was held on Sunday, July 26, 1992.
What Happened to the Parade?
The Pride Festival of Central PA’s Unity Parade came to life during the fall of 2005 when Dan Stroup presented the concept of a Gay Pride Parade whose theme would be community unity to the Pride Festival of Central PA Board of Directors. The board liked the idea and created a parade sub-committee charged with organizing and bringing a parade to life.
Working against a perception that the community was too small to support such a parade, the sub committee prevailed and central Pennsylvania’s first Pride Parade marched down Harrisburg’s Front Street, Saturday July 29, 2006, the morning of the 15th Pride Festival of Central PA.
The first Central PA PrideFest Unity Parade was a resounding success much to the delight of the 3,000 spectators and chagrin of protestors!
A parade was held every year from 2006 to 2010.
The 2011 parade was canceled due to permit issues with the City of Harrisburg and then Mayor Linda Thompson. The parade resumed for a year in 2012 and was canceled again in 2013 due to a myriad of concerns including attendance and cost.
Over the life of the parade, attendance declined whereas costs rose dramatically. This was especially true during the City of Harrisburg’s fiscal crisis where event fees and costs hit the roof. To block off just 10 blocks, it would have cost the organizing committee $8,000. Add in entertainment and the parade’s price tag easily doubled in cost to around $16,000, a sizeable sum of money for an event that never in its existence created a self-sustaining revenue stream.
Sponsors were more interested in directing their monies and energies into the Pride Festival, where they could visibly see a return on their investment and attendance numbers that were growing and getting larger every year.
While very important and symbolic in our larger LGBT heritage, what we know of today as “pride” evolved a little differently in than our sister cities and began locally with a picnic that evolved into a festival, not a march that evolved into a parade.
With that in mind along with the costs and lack of interest, The Pride Festival of Central PA Executive Board decided the fate of the parade for the 2014 and subsequent festivals in October 2013, indefinitely suspending the Unity Parade until such a time that a parade would be fiscally prudent and the community could once more rally behind the event.
This decision was not taken lightly nor was it made without consulting the Harrisburg area LGBT community by hosting special meetings and as a part of surveys. Feedback from the community was lackluster. 16% of survey respondents were disappointed/unhappy there was no parade and while there was a slight uptick in attendance at the meetings, it wasn’t enough to convince the board the community still supported the parade in terms of attendance or being a part of the organizing committee.
The parade may return one day, but for now we feel all of our resources are better spent on focusing our efforts and energies on growing and making the Pride Festival of Central PA a premiere top notch event.
Unity Parade Marshals
The selection of parade marshals of the Unity Parade was a way to recognize local hometown heroes. Marshals were nominated by the community and selected by the Pride Festival of Central PA Board of Directors based on their contributions and service to the Central Pennsylvania LGBT community.
Carol Resinger and Kirk Baney
State Representative Ron Buxton
Tija R. Hilton-Phillips