This year's annual Pride Festival in downtown Oklahoma City may mark a milestone for the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Now in its 25th year, the festival has moved from a less glamorous area of town into the footprint of the Devon tower and the restored Film Row district downtown.
For Joshua Sauer, the move marks a significant step toward full integration and acceptance in a state known more for its social conservatism than its acceptance of the gay community.
“The first Pride Festival ever, we were literally fighting the (Ku Klux Klan),” said Sauer, who serves as vice president of OKCPride, the nonprofit group that organizes Pride Week.
“This city and this state are not as bigoted as people think,” he said. “Over time, it just gets better, and people start to realize we're normal people just like anyone else.”
Perfect sunshine set the scene Saturday for the kickoff of Pride Week. A parade at 6 p.m. Sunday leads to movie nights throughout the week. The event will culminate with two days of rodeo, May 26 and 27.
Saturday's itinerary included plenty of eats, shopping and live music. Nearly a dozen acts performed on a large stage, including belly dancers, a pair of magicians and spoken-
Pride Festival marked as much a rallying point for the gay community's politics and other causes as it did a celebration, Sauer said. Workers at one tent offered free health screenings, including an HIV test. At another tent, voter registration cards were distributed.
Misty and Kerry Cross of Oklahoma City said they have been attending since 2002 because the festival brings out a good variety of people. Despite the rhetoric about gay marriage on the national and state political scenes, most people are accepting of their lifestyle, they said.
“It's about us, it's about equality, and it's about what we want,” Misty Cross said. “I think we're just trying to get our voice heard.”
Sheli Ross, who has been attending 20 years, said the downtown festival gives the gay community positive public exposure.
“It's gotten bigger, there's a lot more vendors and there's a lot more people from the public coming out,” Ross said.
“People are bringing their children now because it's family-friendly. It doesn't matter if they're gay or not, they're coming out to support the community.”
Sauer said politics are important, but not as important as demonstrating that gays can be a positive force in the local community.
“This is our political statement right here,” he said. “We're not going to riot, we're not going to go bang on doors — we're going to express ourselves this way.”
If you go
For a full schedule of Pride Week events, go to okcpride.org.