Taking pride: Family festival celebrates diversity

Organizers expect thousands to turn out for the 2014 Pride Festival in Lee Park on September 13. Photo courtesy Amy Sarah Marshall Organizers expect thousands to turn out for the 2014 Pride Festival in Lee Park on September 13. Photo courtesy Amy Sarah Marshall

This week marks our first-ever pride issue—just in time for Charlottesville’s Pride Festival this weekend. Check out our other feature stories on deciding whether to marry as a gay couple, on UVA’s lack of gender-neutral housing for trans students, and on what it was like to be gay at CHS in the ’90s.

When Amy Sarah Marshall organized Charlottesville’s first Pride Festival in Lee Park in 2012, she and her fellow planners hoped 100 people would show up. Instead, they got 2,000. The festival’s second year drew close to 4,000 revelers, Marshall estimates, and this year—particularly with Virginia making national news over recent gay marriage rulings—will likely be the biggest yet, featuring theatrical performances, food, family fun, and, to Marshall’s delight, Attorney General Mark Herring as the keynote speaker.

“That’s a huge deal, especially because he has national prominence because of his stance on marriage equality,” said Marshall, president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network, praising Herring for sticking to his campaign platform by refusing to defend the state’s anti-gay-marriage position.

While some might assume that the liberal bastion of Charlottesville has long been a haven for the gay community, Marshall said the festival has helped illuminate the ways she believes the community still needs to evolve.

“Before the first festival, [same sex couples] wouldn’t feel safe holding hands on the Downtown Mall,” Marshall recalled, noting that in the more conservative and religious communities both in and beyond Charlottesville, attitudes towards homosexuality haven’t necessarily changed. She described one gay couple from Greene County—parents of three children—telling her that the festival, which they attended with their kids, marked the first time they’d ever held hands in public. 

It’s that spirit and experience of acceptance that Marshall and others hope to see spread through and beyond the festival, which is geared towards families and towards bringing people of all kinds together as well as connecting people to health and wellness resources in the area.

“This isn’t a gay festival; it’s a Charlottesville festival,” said Marshall, noting that for straight people, too, the festival is a chance to publicly express their support.

“It’s a festival that celebrates everything that people believe in terms of equality and diversity and what we talk about when we discuss what’s great about Charlottesville,” said Marshall.

The rundown: This year’s Pride Festival takes place September 13 in Lee Park in downtown Charlottesville from 11am-5pm, with Mark Herring kicking things off, followed by entertainment provided by Live Arts and goods from more than 70 vendors. At 5pm, the party moves over to The Main Street Arena for Pride After Dark. That event will be family and teen friendly until 8pm, then turn into a 21-and-over party with a drag show and late night DJ. The event benefits Thrive Healthcare, a primary healthcare service that is a new program of Charlottesville’s AIDS/HIV Services Group (ASG).