“My first time attending VA PrideFest ended with me being 10 pounds lighter,” writes GayRVA contributor Christopher Brown.
Richmond’s annual VA PrideFest doesn’t happen in June, like many Pride festivals across the nation. It instead takes place in late September, and you would think that’s a good idea, for a few reasons.
First, with LGBTQ Pride month being in June, some of the major pride festivals like Washington D.C., New York, Norfolk and Philadelphia happen, and that could cause some competition that might hurt a smaller city like Richmond. Second, here in the South, the weather in June is usually not the coolest. According to U.S. climate data, the average temperature in Richmond, Virginia during June is 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The last time the September average reach that high was in 2010 — the current average is 81 degrees.
These all seem like valid reasons to host Richmond’s Pride in September. Unfortunately, last Saturday still felt like June. The high temperature that day was 93 degrees, with the heat index reaching almost 100 degrees. According to Dominque Green, a VA PrideFest attendee, the weather was “homophobic, biphobic, and anti-black.”
I had to agree with her on that one, because the weather was unbearable! People were carrying water bottles, sitting in shaded areas around Brown’s Island, and had fans — either hand fans that said something “campy” like “Make America Cum Again,” or church fans that free from came from the T-Mobile booth. Even the dogs were getting hot, panting under the endless sun.
Geneva Poelker, a regular attendee of VA PrideFest, said he was shocked when one of the food vendors he went to ran out of water bottles to sell. Vendors couldn’t even give out ice for scorching guests.
Weather-related complaints aside, though, my first time going to an LGBTQ Pride festival was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. Different vendors and sponsors like SunTrust and T-Mobile were out there handing out free stuff like pride flags, pins, stickers, and beads. Local Richmond organizations like Diversity Richmond, Side by Side, and Equality Virginia were also out there giving out free stuff, as well as teaching visitors about their organization and how they help the LGBTQ population in the city and throughout the state.
Richmond’s Mayor, Levar Stoney, along with 72nd District Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, Congressional Representative Abigail Spanberger, and Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras showed up in support. Stoney even made reference in his speech to a recent CNS article published by GayRVA, which focused on the city’s efforts to ban conversion therapy.
Attending PrideFest this year was an eye-opener for me. Seeing people wear their respective pride flags like capes, and dressed up in the campiest of ways, I didn’t feel like an outsider, though two or three years ago I would’ve. Before I came out as bisexual, I never felt inclined to go to something like Pride. Going to LGBTQ-related events or businesses like Pride festivals or gay bars felt outside my comfort zone; I wasn’t even comfortable with myself. Last Saturday changed that for me.
For those who haven’t attend VA PrideFest, I highly recommend going next year. However, you’ll need to remember a few things to survive the event. Here are a few tips for you first-timers:
- BRING WATER! Save the alcohol for the nighttime events.
- It’s not a food festival like the RVA Veg Fest or the Watermelon festival; while there are food vendors, I would eat something prior, then get something light, like a snack, once you get to the festival.
- Bring a small bag with you for all the free stuff you’ll be getting.
- Don’t go alone! Bring your friends, your family, or your fur-baby. VA PrideFest is a free, inclusive event.
The final tip is to be yourself. 50 years ago, the LGBTQ community had to fight for the ability to be themselves in public spaces. That fight continues; however, today the community can party and fight at the same time.
Here are some of the sights of this year’s VA PrideFest:
All Photos by Christopher Brown