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Pittsburgh celebrates LGBTQ community with PrideFest

By Sarah Police / For The Pitt News

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Donning a “God Hates Figs, Mark 11:12-14” t-shirt, Michael O’Brien celebrated his first Pittsburgh Pride March, feeling overjoyed with the amount of support the city had garnered for the LGBTQ community. 

The celebratory weekend, dubbed “2014 PrideFest,” kicked off Friday with a pub crawl of 13 LGBTQ-friendly restaurants and bars located Downtown, including Cruze Bar, Spin and Brewer’s. The festivities continued Saturday with Pride in the Street, a concert featuring Chaka Khan, a singer known by many as the “Queen of Funk” and for her dominant stage presence. PrideFest closed Sunday with a Pride March parade that made its way Downtown and was organized by the Delta Foundation, which creates events that are attractive to the LGBTQ community. According to the PrideFest website, more than 130 groups and organizations participated in the parade.

PrideFest has been an annual event in Pittsburgh since 2006, but in light of recent events, this year’s PrideFest served as a celebration for the local LGBTQ community. 

On May 14, the state of Pennsylvania legalized gay marriage. Many at PrideFest were overjoyed about the new change.

“We’ve been waiting for it to be legal and we’re so happy,” Greg Calvimontes, a participating vendor, said. “This [event] lined up perfectly.”

Gwen Prybock, a 22-year-old from Butler who attended PrideFest, echoed Calvimontes’ sentiments.

“In all honesty, I thought [Pennsylvania] was going to be one of the last five states to do it,” Prybock said. “When it was announced in May, I was at work and my colleagues came over and pulled up the news article online and I just lost it.”

O’Brien, vice president of Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance, attended the annual parade for the first time this weekend.

“I’ve always wanted to march in the parade, really ever since I came out. And of course I wanted to show my support for our group,” he said.

O’Brien enjoyed the parade the most out of all the weekend’s events. 

“I loved everything about it,” O’Brien said. “There’s such a sense of unity and pride and love. It’s incredibly powerful.”

While the parade served as an opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community to celebrate, local vendors saw it as an opportunity to show their support.

Roughly 150 vendors lined the streets of the parade, which ended at Liberty Avenue and included both local and larger Pittsburgh-based corporations, including PNC. Booths were set up from Sixth Street to Tenth Street. 

Justin Warner, a 26-year-old employee of the LGBTQ apparel company FCKH8 ran a booth at PrideFest to promote its website. Warner said his goal of being a vendor was to spread the word against those opposed to the LGBTQ community.

“We’re just trying to end hate,” Warner said. “Last week I was out in Columbus [Ohio] and I was just holding hands with my boyfriend and these guys just passed by in a taxi and was like ‘look at those stupid f*gs.’”

Warner came out to his parents about a year ago. He said his family’s reaction was a little rough at first, but that they have accepted his sexuality over time, because he has proven himself to be a responsible person. For Warner, “growing up and making important choices, the right choices” is the most valuable thing. Warner said a lot of people generalize about the LGBTQ community and he hopes to change that image.

Calvimontes, 55, attended the parade and ran a booth which promoted a wedding expo featuring LGBTQ-friendly DJs, wedding planners, catering services and other services for weddings in the Pittsburgh area.

Calvimontes initially got involved in the LGBTQ community through his daughter, who identifies as bisexual. 

He said many of the vendors at PrideFest are involved with the LGBTQ community in some way or another, and that even if they personally are not, they are still friendly toward it.

“People don’t have to come out [as gay]. Everyone already knows, they don’t care and you’re treated with respect,” Calvimontes said.

Adrienne Vita, 23, worked as a stage manager for the stage on Sixth Street and was responsible for taking care of the needs of the performers, making sure they arrived on time, providing them with water and making sure the music was prepared. 

After the parade, the stage on Sixth Street was full of performers for the rest of the evening, switching acts about every 30 minutes. Most of the acts had choreographed dances, which drew cheers and catcalls from audience members.

Vita has worked alongside several volunteers since the 2013 PrideFest to make sure this year’s celebration would be a success.

Roughly 150 volunteers, not including the vendors, worked throughout the weekend to keep PrideFest running with minimal hiccups, according to Vita.

“This definitely would not have been able to run as smoothly and be as great as an event if it wasn’t for all the volunteers,” Vita said.

Vita said her favorite part of volunteering as a stage manager was meeting the performers. Many performers in the parade wore flashy and colorful attire from head to toe. Glitter, rainbows, smiley faces and pop music poured from the floats as several participants danced in the street. 

“They’re very personable and very humble people,” Vita said. “It’s nice to see them step out of the limelight and be real people.”

While the parade marked the celebration of a single change in how the state recognizes LGBTQ couples, O’Brien noted that there are bigger issues ahead.

O’Brien said those in Pitt’s LGBTQ community are doing a great job supporting themselves, and that it is most important for students to maintain an active, accepting and loving presence on campus.

“We can’t do it without the support of allies and we hope to keep increasing the number of allies we have on campus in order to make [Pitt] that much more aware of and proud of diversity,” O’Brien said.

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Pittsburgh celebrates LGBTQ community with PrideFest