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Leading the parade.

AUSTIN A MOTHER

Three years ago, deep in the political heart of Texas, the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce decided to produce a local parade to celebrate a historic national event--the three nights in 1969 of civil unrest in New York City remembered as Stonewall.

About 450 people marched in the Texas capital's first parade in 2002, which drew about 20,000 spectators. Sue Raye, a suburban mother of five and grandmother of three, was there, just as she'd been on the scene for other gay events since 1993, when she and her husband first noticed a banner for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and joined up. "My extended family has several gay and lesbian members that we love, and we saw their struggles and concerns," Raye says. "And so we inquired about PFLAG, and we've been members ever since."

Today, Raye, 57, is the president of Austin's PFLAG chapter, and on June 5 she served as grand marshal of Austin's pride parade with Austin businessman and politician Mark Katz. "Being in the parade is a way to tell the world it is OK to love and embrace, because there are people out there who aren't loved because of their sexual orientation," she says. "If we can persuade one parent to say to their child 'Come home. We love you the way you are,' that will really be worth it, really something."

Raye's activism dates back to the early 1970s, when she was an impressionable college student in Ohio, where the clash between antiwar demonstrators and National Guardsmen at Kent State University made a lasting impression. "From a very early age I kind of rebelled against my conservative Republican background," she says. "I saw that there had to be better solutions to problems in the world than fighting and yelling and hurting one another. All my life I've been on that track."

ATLANTA FUND-RAISING DRAG QUEENS

They'll lead the Atlanta pride parade under aliases. And they'll ride in the procession in style--in a supersize high heel. Try, not to forget their stage names: Dixie D. Cupp, Knomie Moore, Wild Cherry Sucret, Amber Devine, Ivana Bottom, and Mary Edith Pitts.

The Armorettes are a 25-year-old drag troupe serving as honorary grand marshals of Atlanta's 34th annual pride parade on June 27. An estimated 300,000 people are expected to attend the event at Piedmont Park, which would make the celebration the largest GLBT event in the Deep South. "Getting this recognition means people are aware of us--not just that we do a drag show but for the work we do," says Cherry, 38.

The Armorettes began as a squad of cheerleaders for a community softball team, but as AIDS took its toll on Atlanta's gay population in the 1980s, they began to raise money. Lots of money. To date, the group's benefit shows and a weekly drag revue at Burkhart's Pub that is a "campy, irreverent salute to wild and crazy" has raised over $1.4 million for HIV/AIDS groups.

"I think drag queens are always the fast group that people go to when they need fund-raising. People want to malign drag queens, but when it comes down to it, they are the first to step up to the plate when there is a need," says Mary Edith Pitts, who is "anatomically correct and a little, boisterous."

On Gay Pride Day the Armorettes will share marshaling honors with Allen Thornell, the executive director of Georgia Equality, a statewide political advocacy group; Mary Anne Adams, the executive director of Zami, an organization for lesbians of African descent; and PFLAG morn Judy Colbs.

"It is always heartening," says Atlanta Pride executive director Donna Narducci of the 2004 marshals, "to see that so many folks are doing so many great things and inspiring others in the community as they go about their work."

OMAHA A CLUB OWNER

At the entrance to his Club Joy nightclub in Omaha, Eric Andersen posted a welcome sign that also serves as a warning to those who might disrespect GLBT people.

"I want people to have a fun, safe place to go," says Andersen, 38, who in addition to running a gay nightclub holds down a full-time job in the travel insurance industry. "We don't tolerate disrespectful language.... So if someone is going to be disrespectful, I say, 'You know what, tonight you have to leave.'"

Patrons of Club Joy suspect that Andersen's commitment to creating a comfortable space for them that is a sort of living room in downtown Omaha, as well as his sponsorship of a wide variety of community causes, are the reasons he won the Nebraska pride popularity contest. The top vote-getter in an election taking place in his home state and Iowa, Andersen will serve as the marshal of the 19th annual Nebraska pride parade in downtown Omaha on June 19.

"I was pretty surprised," he says of being among the five nominees for marshal and of his election to the post. "It is quite an honor.... Gay pride in Omaha, it's not like a Macy's kind of thing. It's a lot of different groups showing up. It's community."

A good pride parade and a welcoming nightclub, says Andersen, have a lot in common: "Both should be places where all types of people come together. We should all be able to get along and be respectful of each other. That's what we hope for at gay pride [events], and that's what we try to do in the club.

"It should be a joy," Andersen says.

SAN FRANCISCO AN ECLECTIC CREW

One million people. Thirty-four years. San Francisco's pride parade is one of the world's largest and oldest, so it seems fitting that it has one of the biggest contingents of parade marshals.

This year, marking its 34th anniversary, the San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade features a high-profile lineup of marshals: long-time activist and Metropolitan Community Church founder Troy Perry, community leader Calvin Gipson, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco assessor Mabel Teng, the San Francisco chapter of Immigration Equality, actor Alan Cumming, and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. Also, for "consistently and intentionally [arguing] against civil liberties for LGBT persons for the entirety of his political career," U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft earned the dubious title of "Pink Brick" marshal, but parade organizers aren't expecting him to attend.

However, Cumming, a Tony winner for his work on Broadway in Cabaret and a familiar face for his roles in X2: X-Men, United and Spy Kids, was delighted to accept his marshaling honors.

"I'm a virgin in this field," the Scottish actor says from Vancouver, Canada, where he's filming a musical version of the cult classic Reefer Madness. "I've been to gay pride [parades] but never as a marshal. I was really honored to be asked, especially because it's in San Francisco--the place to go and feel safe and comfortable. I think it will be fabulous--and I'll get a better view."

What will he say in his speeches? "It will be pretty much along the lines of how great it is to be able to celebrate being the person you want to be, but also, 'Enough of being thought of as a second-class citizen.'"

DENVER PARENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN

Last summer partners Dave Johnson and James Lyman took turns hoisting their adopted son, Joey, on their shoulders so he could watch Denver's pride parade pass. "He just loved it. He's a little socialite," says Johnson, 36, a Denver attorney who lives with Lyman, 30, a Denver law school student, and their toddler.

On June 27, when Denver's 17th annual pride parade heads out of Cheesman Park in the Capitol Hill district for downtown, Johnson and Lyman will again shoulder Joey. But this time the threesome will be in the parade, sharing marshaling duties with about 70 other gay and lesbian parents and their children.

"I think it's great that the gay community is putting so much emphasis on the families," Johnson says. "For a lot of the time that I've been involved in the community, either the family has been absent or off to the side."

Johnson and Lyman adopted Joey almost two years ago. "He completely changed my life," Johnson says. "And for the better, I literally went from planning the next circuit party to getting the house ready for Joey.... And now it's all about family. A new house. Bigger yard."

On Gay Pride Day the proud pops plan to make a political statement in the parade, placing Joey in a JOHN KERRY FOR PRESIDENT T-shirt.

But they're also looking forward to some flamboyant but family-friendly fun. "My favorite thing is to see the drag queens," Lyman says. "Pride, it's just great fun, really--a time to be open and be gay and be liberated."

CHICAGO A GAY FOOTBALL PLAYER

For nine years Esera Tuaolo played in the National Football League, running onto gridirons to the roar of thousands of fans. But the former defensive lineman says that rush doesn't compare to the thrill of being openly gay and honest at a pride parade.

"I was carrying this pain and, running onto the field, instead of feeling the excitement I was feeling the fear. Pride is about not hiding in the shadows anymore, about the freedom to be who we truly are."

He'll be the grand marshal of Chicago's 35th annual parade on June 27. Riding with partner Mitchell Wherley, Tuaolo will hear the roar of 380,000 cheering celebrants. It's certainly an honor no other former Green Bay Packer has ever received in Bear country.

Tuaolo, who in a nine-year NFL career suited up for the Packers, Vikings, Panthers, and Falcons, came out less than two years ago, making headlines for his frank comments about homophobia in sports. Today, he has found second, third, and fourth careers: He's singing on his second album, taking acting classes, and working as a motivational speaker as well as raising a twin boy and girl with Wherley in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS; A PROFESSOR

There's a "Ph.D." after Linnea A. Stenson's name. And her title, dean of academic affairs at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, sounds pretty serious, But that's Stenson, 43, at work.

Twin Cities citizens will see Stenson at play June 27, Gay Pride Day, when she serves as the grand marshal of the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade along Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

Stenson has attended and participated in a good share of Minneapolis pride parades over the past two decades. There was, she recalls, that ride on the motorcycle. And there was that ride with friends on a decorated ragtop Cadillac convertible called the Lesbeat. "It was for the pure, unadulterated fun of it. We put some sailor caps on our heads and set off on the S.S. Lesboat. Why not have a good time?" she says. "What's not to have a good time about?"

But seriously, Stenson says, she's humbled by the grand marshal appointment, made because of her longtime commitment to GLBT youths and academics.

Stenson taught some of the earliest GLBT studies classes at Macalester College in St. Paul. She helped create a gay studies program at the University of Minnesota, and in the early 1990s she helped establish District 202, Minnesota's first permanent community space for GLBT youths. "To serve as grand marshal, for me, it's a reminder of how fortunate I've been to have had the opportunity to work with so many people, how lucky I've been to work with people who are so dedicated," Stenson says.

As for her Pride Day responsibilities, Stenson's not yet sure of them: "Maybe break a bottle," she says Then a pause. "I'm not going to finish that sentence."

Neff is managing editor of the Chicago Free Press.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Pride 2004
Author:Neff, Lisa
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:1964
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