Diversity will take center stage in the streets of downtown Toledo and Promenade Park this weekend, as the fifth annual Toledo pride celebration unfolds.
Organizers expect 25,000 people to attend the three-day event, which has grown exponentially in each year of its existence.
“We expect it to be bigger and better this year,” said Lexi Staples, event director for Toledo Pride. “We had 2,500 [participants] the very first year and we only expected 1,000. It's really amazing to see what happens when a community is so supportive. By last year, we had 15,000 at the event.”
The “event” is actually a series of events, beginning with a Nite Glo 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run, Walk and Roll at the University of Toledo starting at 8:30 p.m. Friday, followed by KISS ‘N’ Drag — The official Toledo Pride Kick-Off Party, at Promenade Park from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday.
IF YOU GO: Toledo Pride Schedule
Friday: Nite Glo 5K ($18-$23 in advance, $30 day of); 1 Mile Fun Run Walk and Roll ($20 day of, University of Toledo Centennial Mall, with registration starting at 7:30 p.m.). Kiss ‘n’ Drag, 9 p.m., Promenade Park. DJ 3 p.m., drag performers and the Morning Rush’s Demetrius Nicodemus. Admission is $8 or $5 if you bring a non-perishable item to donate to the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank.
Saturday: Pride Parade, noon, starting at the intersection of Washington and Ontario streets, and wending its way across the Owens Corning Bridge at North Summit to Promenade Park. Festivities continue until midnight. Admission is $5 before 7 p.m., $7 from 7 p.m. to midnight. Entrance is free for children younger than 18. Sand Piper Pride Cruises down the Maumee River. Tickets for the 40-minute excursion are $6 or $10 for two.
Sunday: Sunday Funday, noon-3 p.m., Promenade Park, with activities geared toward families with children. Admission is free until 3 p.m., when it will cost $3. Additional activities include Calvin Green, the Blood Sisters featuring Barbara Payton, drag performances, magic, and a performance by the Bird’s Eye View Circus Space. Admission is free for children younger than 18.
Sponsored by 92.5 KISS-FM, the event will feature music from DJ 3PM and drag performances hosted by 92.5’s Eric Chase and drag queen Deja D. Dellataro. Proceeds (a non-perishable item gets $3 off the $8 admission) will benefit the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank.
Saturday is the showcase day of the festival beginning with the Pride Parade at noon. The parade will start at Washington and North Ontario streets, and wend its way to Promenade Park. More than two dozen groups are schedule to participate.
The parade will have four grand marshals: Muddy, the mascot for AAA baseball’s Toledo Mud Hens, and entertainers Rye Rye, Pastele and Eryn Woods. The latter three are singers who will perform later in the day at Promenade Park.
Once at the park, the festival kicks into high gear with more than 80 food and merchandise vendors, local bands, performances by drag queens and the aforementioned headline performers. Activities continued until midnight.
“We've got some larger name entertainment than we've had in the past,” Staples said. “We pretty much have a weekend full of events. We've got a lot of support from the community and sponsors.”
As in past years, the final day of the festival has been designated “Sunday Fun Day” at the park. From noon to 3 p.m., the festival will host a variety of activities aimed at families with children. There will be no alcohol sales until 2 p.m. Additional activities and entertainment run until 10 p.m.
If Toledo Pride is a bit tardy to the party, it does so deliberately. While most large cities around the country stage their Pride celebrations in June and early July, Ms. Staples said local organizers wanted to give people the chance to patronize larger festivals in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, and still attend Toledo’s fete.
“We are definitely one of the later (pride celebrations), and we branded ourselves as such to allow people to participate in those established pride events such as Columbus and Cleveland,” Staples said. “We strategically planned our events for August, which would allow people going out of town (in June) to also celebrate in their own community.”
In an age when the fight for gay marriage has brought heightened awareness of diversity issues, Staples concedes that Toledo Pride is a chance to spotlight issues affecting lesbian, gay, transgender, questioning people, and their allies.
“I think the more positive things we can do for this community, the more spotlight we can shine on the fact that we're just everyday people working and supporting the community, the more accepting (the larger) community will be,” Staples observed.
“The mission of the actual Pride is to celebrate our community, but it's not necessarily political.” Still, she conceded, “A lot of the groups coming will be promoting marriage equality and other hot button issues.”
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