RI Pride Celebrates 39th Anniversary
Rhode Island’s LGBT community held their 39th annual Pride celebration on June 21 in Providence, featuring sunny skies, lots of heat, and passionate performances from several local entertainers.
This year’s theme, "Triumph and Transformation," was a celebration of the marriage equality victories in the Ocean State and across the country, as well as a tribute to the transgender members of the community. Thousands of people flooded the streets of Providence to cheer on the marchers and floats featured in the Illuminated Night Parade.
The parade’s grand marshals were Rodney Davis and Brian Mills. Davis has served as the President of Rhode Island Pride and was a volunteer for the organization for 23 years while Mills, his partner, is also a former board member and has organized the Triple Crown Pageant, Pridefest entertainment, and the Illuminated Night Parade.
Stephen Alexander, a teacher at the Ponaganest High School in Scituate, was an honorary marshal after becoming the first high school and middle school transgender coach in the U.S.
Several political leaders marched in the parade too, including gay Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley (D), Providence Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras (D), gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell (D) and his wife, Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) and Congressman James Langevin (D).
Parade participants included members of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), Beneficent Congregational Church, St. Peter’s and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Lifespan, Bank of America, Anthony Maselli - Mr Gay Rhode Island 2014, and supporters of gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo (D).
This year’s festival was held on South Water Street, alongside the Providence River. In past years the event was held at Station Park, across from the State House. This year’s headliner was Niki Haris, one of Madonna’s longtime backup singers and a successful solo artist.
"The RI Pride 2014 celebration brings smiles, great cheer and renewed optimism to thousands of Rhode Islanders and tourists," said gay gubernatorial candidate Todd Giroux (D). "I commend the work of all the organizers and volunteers for an exciting, well organized and safe festival that keeps RI on the world class list of places to have great fun, food and shared community good times."
Belle Pellegrino was a participant in the first ever Pride celebration in the state, in 1976. Pellegrino is in awe of how popular the Pride celebrations have become.
"For the ’76’ers,’ it is such an amazing feeling to hear the crowds reaction when we are announced or came into view," Pellegrino told EDGE. "Every time someone says ’Thank you,’ I am so deeply touched. Pride is a special time for me with so many wonderful parts, but I think my favorite part is seeing the young folks of [Youth Pride, Inc.].
"To know that we [the 76’ers] played some small role in making it possible for them to be out and proud brings me to tears every year," he continued. "For me, the youth are the reason we marched back then and why we continue to do so every year."
Another LGBT activist, Lee McDaniel, also said enjoyed the event.
"I thought Pride was full of energy this year, both at the street festival and at the parade," McDaniel told EDGE. "It was an honor to march with Clay Pell and Michelle Kwan in the parade this year. Spectators seemed especially enthusiastic this year."
Pride also featured special performances by Sabrina Blaze, Jackie Collins, Joe Cat, Xelle, Aiden James, DJ Andy Morris, Derek Capobianco, Carrie Ashton, Hannah and Maggie, Heather Rose in Clover, Imperial Court of RI, Miss Gay RI 2014 Nadia Starr, Miss Lesbian RI 2014 Betty Lebesian, and former "American Idol" contestant David Hernandez. Emcees included Poppy Champlin, Jacqueline DiMera, Vi’Let, John Kelley, Ellen Moschetto, and Haley Star.
Vendors manned booths all along South Water Street, selling Pride merchandise, including clothing, jewelry, and other trinkets.
AIDS Care Ocean State, AIDS Project Rhode Island, Sojourner House, Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and Human Rights Campaign all were on hand to gather support for their services.
The festivities continued well into the night, with block parties being held all over the city.