The Roots of Pride: the deep roots of Kentuckiana Pride

Feb 15, 2017 at 12:16 pm
The 2016 Pride Parade in Louisville
The 2016 Pride Parade in Louisville By Timothy P. Valentino

The dictionary defines pride as, “a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem,” and “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”

Both of these definitions capture the essence of the annual gatherings of the highly diverse LGBTQ population for festivals known collectively as “pride.” Pride festivals feature a series of events that include parades, beer gardens, vendor booths, music and fellowship. Speeches and posters, cheers and jeers, laughing and crying prevail. Emotions are high as participants come out for the first time, or come back for the 10th time, to make new friends and greet the old.

New festivals are popping up all over, including the Louisville Pride Festival and Jeffersonville Pride Festival, and the road was paved before them by the granddad of the family: Kentuckiana Pride Festival. KPF developed as a result of the work of many after a number of independent conclaves paved the way for an aggregate jubilee.

The 1982 Louisville Gay Pride Picnic at Otter Creek Park drew about 100 people, according to activist Ken Herndon, who remembers thinking, “Well, if it’s called ‘pride,’ why is it 45 miles out of town?” The truth was, in those days, people were afraid they’d be outed to families and employers who knew nothing of their sexual orientation, so they erred on the side of caution.

Herndon took over organization of the picnic, moved it from Otter Creek to the Water Tower, and renamed it to increase the scope and perception of geographic inclusiveness. The only caveat? Media wasn’t allowed into the private party that first year, said Herndon, who explained to the press the fear of discrimination and untoward consequences of being seen in same-sex company. KPF was a success, clearing several thousand dollars that first year, which they banked to fund the next year’s activities. Herndon had more plans for the festival. Big plans.

Another landmark was 1987’s first gay “March for Justice.” One of the creators of the March, Carla Wallace, shared, “The struggle to expand equality for LGBTQ people and how it connects to racial justice, gender and worker justice came out of the March for Justice and later, the Fairness Campaign. These efforts helped create the possibility of ever-expanding festivals that center on LGBT pride, and that includes all of us.”

From the Kentucky Fairness Coalition website: “Just over 50 years ago, Kentucky became the civil rights leader in the South when it passed the 1960 Human Rights Act. Since then, cities like Lexington, Louisville and Covington have all worked tirelessly to honor this legacy by enacting fairness ordinances — laws that ensure everyone in our commonwealth has equal protection. Finally, in 2000, there were laws on the books protecting gay Louisvillians from discrimination in employment.”

June of 2001 brought to light a newer, fuller-figured Kentuckiana Pride Festival. The function had finally slipped up the river to the Belvedere, where it remains entrenched between the skyscrapers with fountains in which to frolic and a beautiful view of the Ohio River. T-shirts were sold, and the next few years revealed an increasing number of vendors and a growing crowd of gay and straight attendees. A parade blossomed in 2004, and in 2008, KPF was incorporated.

Rodney Coffman, director of KPF is entering his third year in the position and looks forward to the festival’s continued development. “When I took over as the director, my goal was to grow the festival and our community involvement and re-brand the image,” he said. “I feel if you invest some way, some how in something it always pays you back in some fashion. With that mindset, the goal was to see how we could be more involved. In doing so, it’s paying back. We have seen an increase with individuals wanting to be involved. Membership is growing. This is important to the brand, growth and future of Kentuckiana Pride. New minds, new ideas.”

As LGBTQ equality continued to become more mainstream, the festival too grew in popularity. Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman described 2015, Coffman’s first as director, as “the pride that wouldn’t end” due to the anticipation of the Supreme Court of the United States’ soon-to-be ruling on marriage equality. Pride was huge that year. But it took a tragedy of major proportions to inspire the record-breaking parade of 2016.

At 2:02 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 2016, an angry and sexually-confused 29-year-old man gained entry to a popular gay Orlando nightclub, massacring 49 and injuring 53 more. The shooter died in the melee, and Pulse became the site of the largest murder on American soil since the attacks of Sept. 11. “It was a pivotal moment in the LGBT community/allied relationships. Allies had to step up and defend their fellow citizens,” said Hartman.

Only 18 hours later, an enormous throng from both sides of the river collected to memorialize the Pulse victims on the Big Four Bridge. It was quickly and effectively organized by Fairness and Jeffersonville Pride. Barely a week later, the 2016 Kentuckiana Pride Festival drew thousands, the largest crowd organizers had ever seen.

Mayor Greg Fischer led the charge through the streets of our city, and sidewalks were filled three-deep along the parade route, cheering the marchers. A hearse covered by an iconic rainbow flag moved slowly ahead of 49 angel-winged escorts, each signifying a loss of life. Subsequent parade units ranged from decorated floats to strollers, with families stepping alongside city employees and corporations showing their support of equal rights for all.

More pride festivals are developing in the wake of KPF’s extraordinary success, and organizers all seem to be on the same page. Hartman asserts, “The number of prides in Kentucky doubled this past year, adding Madisonville, Georgetown, Owensboro… looks like there’s going to be a capital pride in Frankfort this year.” I comment that Hartman is going to be like Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO Mike Berry, having to hit every event. “I welcome it and I dread it,” he joked.

The Louisville Pride Festival, held on Bardstown Road in the Highlands, is a brand new meet-up that “promotes Louisville as one community that celebrates diversity, fosters inclusion for all and embraces the LGBTQA community.” Thomas Carrier, founder of the LPF, is proud of his first pride. How did a meeting with KPF’s Coffman play out? Carrier told Modern in August 2016, “From the very beginning, it was our intention to work in tandem with Kentuckiana Pride. I believed it was the only way to provide the best opportunity for us to get the message and meaning of pride to as many people as possible.”