“Were there any moments that made you conscious?”
My friend Raymond asked me that question on Saturday as the major events for the Pride Festival were winding down. When I asked for clarification he said, “when you can look up and see everything, and realize where you are and what it means.”
The work for Pride begins months in advance. While there are annual events that keep coming back, it seems that each summer there are new levels of community involvement. A favorite of many attendees was the collaboration between beer breweries to create some new suds for an event called Brewed With Pride. Offerings from six different breweries and one cidery were made to celebrate the week. Inspired by Broken Tooth Brewing, who always makes their Fabrewlous for the Pridefest Movie event, the beers were first showcased at a kick off party on the 8th of June. Darcy Kniefel, Beer Ambassador for Midnight Sun Brewing Company, said, “We turned Humpy's into the gayest patio that you have ever seen! It was an absolute blast!” The beers from the collection were served at bars and restaurants all across the state, including Williwaw, Spenard Roadhouse, The Avenue, and in Eagle River and Wasilla. Kniefel assured me that each brewery is already working on the names and beers for next year, and that this is going to become a tradition. She draws parallels between the brewing community and what Pride is all about. “Brewing is a huge diverse community, and that is a lot of what Pride celebrates, so many different walks of life, so many different things that can all be included into one.”
The past week and a half was also just a kicking off point for many others in the community. Three new title holders stepped up after winning a pageant on Saturday, June 9th. Ms. Gay Alaska Katy Ryckman, Miss Gay Alaska Scarlett Crypt, and Mister Gay Alaska Peter Panic each woke up Sunday knowing that their week, and the next year had completely changed for them. “I work a 9 to 5 job, so I had to go from my job, go home, change, and immediately go out to support the events,” said Panic.
He had his moment of Pride, however, early on.
“At the Youth Arts Showcase,” he said. “This is the future we are fighting for. The theme of Pride was The Next Generation: More than a rainbow. They are the next generation.”
Crypt spent her week at events as well, and prepared for her already scheduled performances at Dumpster Divas on Tuesday, and her normal performance in the Friday Night Diva Variety Show at Mad Myrna's. She paid homage to icons of the past Judy Garland, and performed what will go down as many peoples favorite performance when she flawlessly executed a remix of Lucille Ball and the VitaMetaVegaMin bit with some Beyonce, Drunk in Love. Now these three are looking forward the the ICOAA Coronation this fall, and their own event in December, the annual Snow Ball.
Drag performances are a staple at Pride. One of Anchorage's favorite local performers Freeza D'Lust recently moved to Seattle but returned for the past week and made sure she was at every event possible. Her favorite moments always come at the festival on the parkstrip. “It's the best part of it. We get to perform for adults all the time, they come and support us, but the children, the ones that aren't 21, when they get to see a drag queen that they have only seen on TV, or on YouTube. When they finally get to see one in person, the smile on their face is the best thing ever.”
There were also many newer faces to the stage this year, and they enjoyed the time on stage as much as they enjoyed putting in the work. Issa Man got to host for the first time ever during an impromptu wet T-shirt contest at Mad Myrna's on Saturday night. For BioQueen Syd, a performer born a woman that enjoys performing as a drag queen, she loved expressing herself in The Show at ACAL, as well as the amateur contest Dumpster Diva's, as much as she enjoyed passing out flyers to promote the ACAL show. For her, it is about community. “I feel like we all go through things in our life. You need a strong support system behind you. I found my support system here at Myrna's, and it led me to you, and it led me to a lot of other great people. Love is love, we should all just support each other.” she said, when I questioned what Pride means to her.
The applause for performers is important to help drown out the negative, hateful people that crash our celebrations. At one of the kickoff events for Anchorage Pride, a quiet library story event made the news because of an unwanted visitor. After that event, Hank Van Dickerson advised that our community greet that intolerance with love, and reminding us that we have more voices. During the parade and the festival members of the community did just that. The street preacher, who does not deserve to have his name in print, was there with a megaphone spewing vitriol, and he was met with a speaker louder than his. Every statement of judgement and condemnation was met with one of love and encouragement from Bree Anna Lee Witzke, and seemed to make those marching walk a little prouder. Witzke told me “As an Alaskan resident since 1994, and having been on my own since I was 14, the streets of downtown Anchorage have been my home. They will continue to be my home, because Anchorage is a part of me. I am a trans woman, I have been open and active in the community for 8 years. I have been true to myself with the world for 8 years. Nobody needs hate, nobody needs to be misjudged. Just because we are different does not mean that God does not love us.”
Not everyone who marched in the parade was confronted by the street preacher because he moved to an area where he could again be heard.
As the preacher relocated to the other side of the festival where he could again attempt his message, the community once again got to work taking care of him in a gentle and effective manner. “He was standing in the bed of his truck saying really mean, hateful, nasty things. At first there were people trying to sing over him, but he had an amp, and they couldn't really get over him. The community tried to stand in front of the truck.” said Roni Lanier. “Someone had gone to get the angel wings. They were standing in front of him but he was standing in the bed of a truck so it didn't block him. They had borrowed banners from the food trucks that were taller than him, they had the angel wings on, they were all singing and Lillian (Lennon) had her bullhorn on, so you could not hear him at all.” The angel wings that he speaks of have been a symbol in our community for 20 years. They were used by Romaine Patterson and the group Angel Action during the funeral of Matthew Shepard to block Westboro Baptist Church. They were used again during the funerals of the victims of Pulse Orlando. Lanier says our community has made them as well, and used them when needed.
Shelby Wilson and Chris Barraza did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to all of the events this year. As co-chair of the Pride Committee, Wilson should be proud of the record breaking number of attendees, vendors, and fundraising that was done. The funds collected not only go to pay for what happens in June each year, but also to fund Identity Inc. for it's year round programs of outreach, support, and education. Wilson has been serving on the committee for a while now, and had her conscious moment brought to her by a letter. “I was having some difficulties with a person. I was at my stress point. I wanted to relinquish this responsibility. Then, someone sent me the most magnificent letter of request, and I thought, this is why I do Pride. This is why I can't leave. I want to make sure that we are fulfilling every piece of the LGBTQIA, the alphabet soup. Not just a portion, not just a spotlight on one or two. Everyone.” Barraza was on the planning group for the first time this year, and took on the daunting task of being the parade organizer. With 49 entries it was the largest that it has ever been. He is grateful for the moment that the parade started and he could finally breathe knowing he had done it, but his moment of Pride came later, during the Ginger Minj performance at Williwaw. “Specifically this one woman and her best friend. The woman had recently become blind. She was a huge fan of Drag Race. They started to take it all in, and as she heard Ginger sing, tears started coming out of her eyes,” he said. “That's when I realized, that's why I did it.”
For many, the planning for next year has already begun. Wilson is still trying to work out more events for those members of our community that are too old for the youth events, but haven't reached the legal age to attend bar events, and events for those that don't want to attend parties at bars. Next year will mark 50 years since the Stonewall riots that were the inspiration for this celebration in the first place. We are going to have to continue to top ourselves, especially when we are commemorating something that important.
My moments of Pride, those times when I was most ‘conscious,’ happened throughout the entire celebration. Marching with the Pups, Bears, and Leather contingency for The Last Frontier Men's Club, and then doubling back to march with The Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles was one. Seeing the performances during the Youth Arts Showcase was another. Getting to reconnect with friends and realizing we are all connected by a common thread of love, as much as going home with my partner and enjoying the calm. My moments of Pride happen when I realize that there were generations doing this for almost 50 years so that I have the right to, and the reason that I participate is, because like all those I have mentioned, I want the next generation to be able to as well.
Pride by the numbers
Each year, the Anchorage Pride Celebration seems to grow. Many have stated that this year was the best ever, and whether that is because of the spirit and attitude of those participating or simply the seemingly endless calendar of events is up to personal opinion. Preliminary numbers are starting to roll in, and one thing is for sure. More people participated than ever before.
-The Rainbow Run, in it's 4th year, had 550 registered runners
-Drag Queen Bingo had over 180 people playing the game, and watching the show
-The Parade had 49 registered groups or organizations. Some of those registered allowed other groups and organizations to march with them, placing this number even higher. Each of these groups were made up of 10 to 50 people
-The parade had between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators
-There is no way to accurately count the amount of people that were at the festival, but estimates place that number around 8,000!