It's been a good year to be queer in Vermont. In last fall's elections, GLBT-friendly lawmakers took back all the seats they'd lost in the wake of the 2000 civil-union vote, and then some. Five openly gay legislators won seats in the legislature, and declared the anti-gay backlash "over." Some 77 percent of Vermonters now say they approve of gay marriage or civil unions. The Burlington school district approved gender-identity protections for transgender students and employees, and UVM drew a record 500 people to its Translating Identities Conference in March.
That should be enough to make any queer person proud. So why is Burlington's Pride Festival shrinking? It might be a victim of its own success.
The annual event, held in cities around the world, celebrates the New York City Stonewall Riots of June 1969, which marked the beginning of the modern gay-rights movement. Burlington held its first Gay and Lesbian Pride parade in 1983. The celebration expanded to include a whole series of queer-themed activities in the 1990s, including a daylong festival on the waterfront. For years, June was Pride Month in Vermont.
But in 2003, Pride's volunteer organizers scaled the festival back to one day. Then, in 2004, they got a slow start on the event, and were forced to bump it to July. This year, they're bumping it off the Burlington waterfront. On Saturday, July 9, parade-goers will assemble near Edmunds Middle School for a stroll down Church Street. Queer organizations -- but no food or merchandise vendors -- can set up tables in City Hall.
Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak, co-executive director of Outright VT, and "surrogate member" of the Pride Committee, says the festival will be more "grassroots" this year. Why? "Basically, a major emphasis on lack of funds, and lack of community support," she quips.
Mulvaney-Stanak joined last year's committee to replace veteran organizers who wanted to step aside. "Me and a few other helpless fools showed up," she recalls. "And then before we knew it, we were the Pride committee."
The twentysomething activist explains that with fewer people involved, fundraising is becoming increasingly difficult. "Most people don't realize the waterfront costs upwards of $10,000," she says. That includes renting the space, the tents, the Port-a-Potties and the staging, and buying insurance. "It's a huge investment, to have something down there."
Raising that kind of money puts a heavy burden on the committee's volunteers. "Sometimes it feels like there are eight of us trying to pull this off by ourselves," says committee member Chelsea Sullivan.
Organizers stress the continuing need for Pride, but with so much progress in the state, some queer Vermonters have simply moved on. Jaime Tibbits, a lesbian who lives with her civil-unioned partner in South Hero, says she hasn't been to Pride in five years. Tibbits, who was active in a queer student group while attending UVM, says she now volunteers for her town library and on the rescue squad. And, yes, her neighbors know she's gay. "I'd much rather be out in my community than march in a parade," she says. "I try to be out on a local level. I just live gay."