A short interview with Jen Stevens and Kurt Bagley of Rhode Island Pride from April of this year (and some musings about the sustainability of Pride).
GET: What’s exciting about this year’s Pride?
JEN & KURT: We have some excellent new board members and committee leaders, so it’s exciting to see our team coming together to plan what will surely be an awesome 40th Anniversary PrideFest.
GET: Organizing Pride is a big deal. What makes you nervous?
JEN & KURT: We fear the stress and sleeplessness that await our most dedicated volunteers if we aren’t able to meet our volunteer and fundraising goals.
GET: How can the Rhode Island community contribute to RI Pride to sustain it as an organization that serves the RI LGBTQ community into the future?
JEN & KURT: We’re asking community members to donate $40 or 4 volunteer hours for this year’s festival. Our public safety costs, rentals, and city fees are skyrocketing, mainly due to increased attendance.
Last year we had about 100 volunteers. We really need 200 to operate this event without burning out our core volunteers. If everyone who truly values PrideFest pitches in, in one way or another, this would be the biggest, safest, most enjoyable celebration of LGBTQ culture this state has ever seen. Otherwise, we have to consider scaling back future festivals.
GET: What is your fantasy for the future of RI Pride?
JEN & KURT: We envision operating out of an accessible community center that houses other LGBTQ nonprofits.
There would be more opportunity for collaboration and we could offer more services with better availability.
JEN: After answering the Pride phone for over nine years, I can tell you that there is a demand for this (the center.)
KAI’S 2 CENTS: Each Pride celebration around the world has a unique history of protest, fun, and visibility. Celebrations vary in size and duration. RI Pride’s attendance has grown in size-it’s now a festival attended by over 35,000 people. In the past two years, Pride festivals around the world have been criticized for becoming commercialized and lacking in one type of inclusivity or another (whether that be of race, age, gender, or culture). For some community members, it seems strange that corporations have a presence at Pride. Big corporations can have both positive and negative impacts. Think of those who came out in public support of Marriage Equality or of the over 100 corporations that recently signed a petition opposing transphobic bathroom laws in North Carolina. It is hard to know how large corporate organizations may be hurting or helping the LGBTQ community. Their support helps us and their visibility at Pride helps them because it shows the rest of the world that they support the LGBTQ community. Their representation at Pride may also hurt the intersectionality of the Pride movement if they do not support Human Rights across the board. It’s tricky. The majority of the sponsors of this year’s RI Pride are local small businesses, the top three are: Dark Lady/Alley Cat, EGO, and The Village. In the past RI Pride’s top sponsors used to be more corporate, including banks, insurance companies, etc. Kurt says, “While we have doubled our dollars from the average budget three years ago, most of our previous top corporate sponsors have cut their support by two-thirds or more”.
If our community wants these issues of inclusivity and representation to change, at PrideFest or in the rest of our world, we cannot simply complain. We need to take action in the ways that we are able. Why not volunteer for Pride? I have seen RI Pride grow in the past five years to become more inclusive of women, trans* and genderqueer/fluid people, and of families. I have no doubt the festival and the organization will continue to grow to become more inclusive and representative of its community, if we all show up and give a little extra for our friends who can’t be fully visible in one way or another. Pride needs you as you are. And some $ of course. Besides, RI Pride is an awesome group of people to hang out with-get to know them!
Thank you, RI Pride, for your efforts to create a bigger space for visibility, support, and resources for the LGBTQ Community.
In the past year, RI Pride has made some user friendly changes to their website. http://www.prideri.com.
Check out the mission statement on the RI Pride website to check out the History of Rhode Island Pride. http://www.prideri.com/our-mission/