Artsy Midtown is often described as "unique" or "colorful," but never has it been so true. On Saturday, June 9th, over 200 feet of rainbow-colored fabric will be paraded down Cooper Street in the annual Mid-South Pride Parade.
That's the most rainbow flag the city's ever seen in one gay pride parade. Members of the organizing group Mid-South Pride (MSP), as well as participants from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, will be showing off the city's new 100-foot eight-color flag. They'll also be giving the organization's old 100-foot six-color flag its final run before retirement.
"We're looking for folks to carry the flags, and you don't have to be gay to help," says MSP president Gary Wilkerson. "It'll take about 50 people to carry each flag."
The new flag is a small section of the Sea-to-Sea flag, an 8,000-foot banner designed for the 2003 Key West Pride Fest. Though it's toured the country since then, this piece will stay in Memphis thanks to a donation from Absolut Vodka.
"Fabric can be very unifying," says MSP board adviser Vincent Astor.
But there's more to gay pride weekend than a colorful banner. On Friday, June 8th, MSP will screen the movie Grease in Peabody Park, located on Cooper Street near Central. The event is free, but donations are suggested.
Beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday, the MSP Pride Festival kicks off in Peabody Park. The daylong fest features live music by Ashley McBryde, Julie Schurr, Tracy Rice, and Shawn Thomas. Drag performers Sasha Nicole, winner of the Miss Gay Heart of America pageant, and Miss Gay Tennessee America alternate Anita Cocktail will also be taking the stage.
Various vendors will be peddling rainbow jewelry, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and other souvenirs, as well as food and beer.
At 3 p.m., individuals carrying the flags and groups with colorfully decorated floats will line up for the annual parade down Cooper. Kick-off is at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church on South Cooper, and the parade will travel to Peabody Park.
Gay pride parades in Memphis date back to 1980 when the Tennessee Gay Coalition for Human Rights organized a march to the Overton Park Shell. Back in those days, says Astor, the parades had more political overtones than they've had in recent years. But this year, MSP hopes to bring the gay-rights focus back to the annual march.
According to Wilkerson, the parade will lead with two activist groups, Intiative: Fairness and the Stonewall Democrats. Wilkerson says a new focus is needed at a time when the issue of gay rights is making national headlines. A recent ban on gay marriage passed overwhelmingly in Tennessee, and similar bans have been enacted nationwide.
Just last week, a gay pride parade in Moscow was violently broken up by police after the mayor deemed gay demonstrations "satanic." Over 30 people were arrested. Even Right Said Fred ("I'm Too Sexy") frontman Richard Fairbass was punched in the face by anti-gay activists.
Fortunately, MSP hasn't encountered any opposition to the annual parade and festival since they began organizing in 2004. "The only complaint was from a driver angry that the parade blocked off her route," Wilkerson says.
On Sunday, June 10th, MSP will host a potluck picnic at Peabody Park. Attendees are asked to bring a dish as well as a donation for MSP's 2008 pride events.
"It takes an entire community to make a community work," Wilkerson says. "When you look at what's happening in Memphis with crime, you can see that [the city] needs to come together. Our desire is to set an example."
For more information, go to midsouthpride.org.