If organizers get the record crowd they’re expecting for this Saturday’s Pride Parade and Festival, they say it’s an indication of how far the community has come. Realities are changing for gay, lesbian, transgender and other residents here in Central New York.
Organizer Sam Castleberry is on the board of C-N-Y Pride. He says the festival is a time to celebrate the L-G-B-T-Q community in a comfortable and supportive way.
“I'm getting calls from the parents of 16-year-olds saying, ‘Hey, my son or daughter or child has just come out as trans or coming out as LGBT. And then I'd like to bring them to the pride festival,’ which really shows you how much things have changed.”
At the same time, Castleberry says you can’t get past the political overtones. He notes it’s the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots that started the gay rights movement. And the celebration makes a statement.
“It's a way of saying we are still here and recognizing that just as quickly as we can gain all rights, they can be taken away, by executive (decision), buy votes in the House or the Senate. So yeah, we're still here and yes we're celebrating, but to celebrate is also I think to be making a political statement about our presence in the community.”
Still, it’s not too distant history when things were much different in Syracuse.
“20 years ago, back in the 1980s, when there was a pride parade, a lot of the members of CNY Pride had a paper bag and masks over their faces ‘cause they didn't want to be identified. And the reason was because those who chose to do that knew that they would probably be fired from their jobs if it were known that they were participating in the pride festival. I don't think you'll see anybody with paper bags over their head this year. That's because on the one hand society’s stance and an acceptance towards LGBTQ people has changed dramatically.”
In fact, Castleberry says signs of growth for the festival include more than a dozen more vendors, as well as churches, politicians, hospitals and other marching in the parade. He also notes numerous corporate sponsors, no longer worried about any backlash from supporting the L-G-B-T-Q community.
The Pride Parade starts at Noon on Bear Street … the festival, with music, food vendors, activities for youth and services for the deaf, runs 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Inner Harbor.