Texas might seem like an unusual place to hold a celebration of tolerance. Here to challenge this perception is Austin PRIDE, Saturday, Sept. 22, put together by the Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation. Currently in its 21st year, PRIDE hopes to both celebrate minority identities and promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer equality awareness. Considering Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage and Romney’s voiced opposition, this could be a critical election year for the issue.
Under this year’s theme, “YOUnify and celebrate,” the festival will last all day and is expecting more than 35,000 participants. This year’s festival has increased the quantity of pre-sale tickets sold by 1000 percent from last year, including some to people overseas and in two-dozen other states. Vendors from all over the country, including some from Seattle, New York City and Milwaukee, will also attend to sell their wares.
With a long list of sponsors, such as Macy’s, BudLight, Subaru, Wells Fargo, Progressive and the Alamo Drafthouse, PRIDE is Austin’s largest annual LGBTQ event. Hoping to disperse a message of equality and unconditional love, the foundation will donate all of its profits to four local LGBTQ nonprofit organizations: AIDS Services of Austin, Equality Texas, Out Youth and Transgender Education Network of Texas. The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation is comprised of only a handful of members and instead will rely on an army of volunteers as its backbone for labor.
PRIDE is a large-scale operation and must be delineated into three separate events: the Rainbow Run, the Pride Festival and the Pride Parade.
PRIDE begins at 9 a.m. with the third annual Rainbow Run, a 5K across Lady Bird Lake and through downtown. Culminating in a “color explosion” of edible powder rainbows at the finish line, the ending area will also feature a DJ stage and a variety of health and fitness vendor tents.
The Pride Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Fiesta Gardens on Lady Bird Lake. Headlined by the risque Peaches, the music lineup will also feature ‘80s legends Stacey Q and Shannon and a number of RuPaul’s drag queens.
Lastly, the Pride Parade will begin at 8 p.m. boasting a lineup of more than 87 different attractions, including musical acts, flaming baton twirlers and several dozen floats, the parade will start at the Capitol and proceed along a closed-down Congress Avenue. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, is slated to participate in the march, and the City Council waived the fees for traffic control.
Fueled by a passion for obtaining equal rights, Paul Huddleston, president of the Pride Foundation, said he personally put in 1,300 hours of uncompensated volunteer work to coordinate and optimize this year’s festival.
“A normal day for me consists of, when I’m not working at my real job as a realtor, making tons of phone calls to various sponsors and organizations and even doing smaller things on social networking sites,” Huddleston said.
Born in Germany and raised in Killeen, Texas, Huddleston solidified his commitment through personal experiences of discrimination. Having been bullied throughout his time spent in the Texas public school system, he, as a realtor, said he still faces bigotry perpetuated by adult businessmen even in a professional climate.
“Some refuse to do business with me solely because of my sexuality,” Huddleston said. “I won’t stand for that.”
Last year Huddleston made the decision to move the festival from June to September so more students would be in town to attend. He said that his organization is specifically trying to attract college students due to their ability to influence tomorrow’s policies. In Princeton Review’s 2012 study on “Most LGBT unfriendly” schools, Texas is represented more than any other state, with Baylor, Texas A&M and the University of Dallas making the list.
“There are traditionalist schools like those,” Huddleston said, “And then there’s UT-Austin.”
PRIDE aims to be an empowering and enlightening experience for both LGBTQ identifiers and their heterosexual allies. However, not everyone is supportive of Austin PRIDE. Protestors have consistently attended in the past. Regardless, Huddleston remains unwavering and optimistic.
“In the ‘50s, gays were considered communists, had their mail inspected, were forced to wear specific kinds of clothes and could be fired for nothing,” Huddleston said. “The first gay parades in the 1970s saw protestors throw dog [feces] at participants. Society as a whole has come a long way, except for a few people who will be seen as being on the wrong side