4th annual gay pride parade draws thousands downtown

The Owens Community College Gay Straight Alliance marches in the annual Toledo Pride parade on Saturday. In its fourth year, the parade has become a major downtown event.
The Owens Community College Gay Straight Alliance marches in the annual Toledo Pride parade on Saturday. In its fourth year, the parade has become a major downtown event.

All parades are different.

Sure, they all tend to have the same general format: floats, banners, and lots of cheering. But even themed parades change with the time and the place. They’re all at least slightly unique. Since they’re from San Francisco, John McGuirk and Richard Knaggs have seen many gay pride parades. But Saturday’s Toledo Pride parade felt different to them.

“Civil rights is easy in San Francisco,” Mr. McGuirk said. “In the Midwest, it takes more courage.”

The pair were in town for a family wedding at the Toledo Museum of Art, and it was a coincidence that Toledo Pride was the same weekend, but they made sure to make the event. To see a community far from the coasts embrace the event gave them a certain sense of pride.

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This was the fourth annual Toledo Pride. On Friday, the Pride weekend kicked off with a nighttime 5K at the University of Toledo. What started with a couple thousand attendees in 2010 at the Erie Street Market has turned into a major downtown event, with Summit Street closed down for several blocks and Promenade Park packed with revelers celebrating themselves and each other.

Toledo Pride has grown each year since it started, with about 5,000 at the second annual event, and close to 10,000 last year, marketing coordinator Kelly Heuss said. Event organizers could only guess at Saturday’s crowd size, as people continued to stream in well after the parade ended, but Ms. Heuss said she expected about 15,000 would attend this year’s Toledo Pride.

The weekend isn’t just a celebration, but a chance to build bonds with the city as a whole.

“It just helps to show the rest of the community we are just like them,” Ms. Heuss said.

Toledo Pride is nothing if not varied. There were tents for politicians near those with feminist literature, roller skaters buzzing by pastors, people dressed to the nines while others barely dressed at all, games for kids, art for sale, families of all kinds, and the party prerequisites of food, music, and beer.

And chins collectively held high. Barb Tressler, who has been with her partner for 15 years, is hoping to someday make their bond official and legal. She said she loved everything about Toledo Pride, and that all could be who they were with no hesitation.

“People aren’t afraid to show their gay side,” Ms. Tressler said. “Everyone walks with pride.”

That kind of community acceptance was apparent by the participation of a slew of politicians and city leaders. Several mayoral candidates, including the incumbent, were in the parade, and the city’s Board of Community Relations read a proclamation in support of the event and Toledo’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

While momentum toward acceptance seems to be gaining in the country, there are those who may never approve of the concept of a sexually diverse society. Several men held signs with Biblical passages and preached during the parade. David Ickes of Gateway Anabaptist Church of Monroe said the group didn’t wish ill on the parade participants, and said it isn’t focused on homosexuality like the Westboro Baptist Church.

Most ignored the protesters, instead enjoying the parade and the pleasant weather.

This year’s Toledo Pride seemed extra special to many at the event, since evolving social attitudes appear to be producing political change. Mr. McGuirk said it felt like equal rights appeared to be reaching a tipping point, but that made public events like Saturday’s even more important.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.