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One 'amazing' day

City's first gay pride event, though it drew a half-dozen protesters, was a mix of music, family, funnel cake and drag queens.

 

Sunday News

Published: Jun 22, 2008
00:13 EST

Lancaster

 

By SUZANNE CASSIDY, Staff

To people in California, where gay marriage now is legal, or to people who live in larger cities, where gay pride festivals are commonplace, Saturday's celebration in Buchanan Park may not have seemed like such an auspicious happening.

 

 

Lee Flowers, from left, Tammi Hessen and Leigh Wisotzkey drum at Lancaster Pride 2008 held Saturday at Buchanan Park.

Jack Leonard, Sunday News

 

 

Michael Marcavage, center, protests at Lancaster Pride.

Jack Leonard, Sunday News

 

 

Michael Marcavage, center, protests at Lancaster Pride.

Michael Marcavage, center, protests at Lancaster Pride.

 

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But to folks here, Lancaster Pride 2008 - Lancaster's first gay "pridefest" - was proof that "good things come to those who wait," said Kim Eisenhaur, co-chair of the event's steering committee.

According to Anthony Lascoskie Jr., one of Lancaster Pride's organizers, some 2,600 paper bracelets, proof of admission, were handed out to festival-goers, vendors and volunteers.

Under picture-perfect, sunny skies, Lancaster Pride had all of the usual elements of a midsummer's festival in Lancaster County - cotton candy, funnel cake, stained glass, arty T-shirt and handmade jewelry vendors - and some not so ordinary attractions, too.

Amid the face-painting for kids, and the G-rated musical entertainment, there were drag shows. But Lancaster Pride was meant to be a family-friendly event, and so the drag queens had been told to be on their best behavior, Lascoskie said.

Miss Lancaster Gay Pride '08, Whitley Nycole DeAire, posed for photos on a gigantic rainbow flag. Wearing a glittering white dress and a sky-scraping rhinestone crown, the queen quipped that her makeup was surviving the heat because it had been applied with "an airbrush and a staple gun."

Lancaster Police Chief Keith Sadler said there were no notable problems, or arrests, at the festival. A lot of planning had taken place, on the part of city officials and the event's organizers, to ensure that things went well, he said.

About two dozen city and state police officers kept watch over Buchanan Park, and two mounted police officers patrolled the streets around the park. A fundamentalist Christian organization from Philadelphia, called Repent America, had notified the police that they would be picketing the event.

Numbering a scant half-dozen, the Repent America protesters were joined by a handful of others from a Virginia group called Life & Liberty Ministries. They held up placards featuring biblical verses and messages about abomination, damnation and salvation.

Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, said his group had come to warn festival-goers of "the judgment that is to come." Marcavage, who bears a passing resemblance to former Sen. Rick Santorum, said he's also been told he looks like televangelist Joel Osteen.

He had another thing in common with Osteen on Saturday: He, and his fellow protesters, were being videotaped.

They were being filmed by volunteers with Silent Witness PA, an organization that seeks to provide a non-confrontational buffer between anti-gay protesters, and those attending gay pride events.

Holding - and in a few cases, twirling - huge, rainbow-hued umbrellas, and wearing neon-orange vests, the Silent Witness volunteers lined the sidewalk of Buchanan Avenue.

Some 40 Silent Witness volunteers worked in shifts. At least half were first-time volunteers, mostly drawn from local churches, including Grace United Church of Christ, Vision of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Mountville, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster.

Blaise Liffick, director of operations for Silent Witness PA, said the volunteers were trained to not engage the protesters. Their aim was to keep festival-goers from feeling intimidated by the protesters, he said. And Silent Witness umbrellas not only provided a colorful physical barrier  they "make people happy," Liffick said.

Lascoskie said he and his fellow organizers felt somewhat saddened by the lengths to which they had to go to protect festival-goers from anti-gay protesters. But they decided, he said, "we'd rather be safe than sorry."

Knowing that the protesters wouldn't pay to get into a gay-pride event, they instituted a $5 admission fee. They set up the festival venue in the heart of the park, where it was beyond the sight and earshot of the protesters, and they cordoned the site off with an orange-netting fence.

Their strategies worked, in the view of those who attended the festival, who praised it for its organization and happy atmosphere.

"It's wonderful to see a community come together peacefully," said Joe Anders, of East Hempfield Township, who was at the festival with his wife, Kathleen.

Erin Givens, a city resident, was there with her son, 4-year-old Oliver, and other family members, including her partner and their two dogs. "We're a different sort of family and we like it that way," Givens said.

She said she wanted her son to see the diversity of those who were at the festival. "It's not just the stereotypes," she said. "It's really just families and people wanting to be together."

Oliver, whose face was painted green to look like a monster, said his favorite part of the day was "when I got my face painted."

A 16-year-old Hempfield High School student manned a booth for a student organization, the Hempfield Gay/Straight Alliance. He said Lancaster Pride was "amazing."

"It shows a level of progressiveness in a really conservative society," he said, adding, "It's so great to see how many other people in this community who are like me. It's so cool."

Ruth Fisher, a Hempfield school administrator who was filling in for the faculty adviser of the Gay/Straight Alliance, said, "I have lived in Lancaster my whole life. If you had told me 10 years ago there would be a drag show in this park I would have said, 'Never gonna happen.' "

The event was a momentous one, she said, particularly for gay teens, who needed "a sense of identity and belonging."



Suzanne Cassidy is a staff writer for the Sunday News. Her e-mail address is
scassidy@lnpnews.com.