Street Fest Lets Gays Revel in Freedom

Virginians Brandi Ryman, left, and Breann Settle embrace at the 32nd Capital Pride street festival, the culmination of a week of events.
Virginians Brandi Ryman, left, and Breann Settle embrace at the 32nd Capital Pride street festival, the culmination of a week of events. (Photos By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2007

Among the tight T-shirts, the leather vests and rainbow-colored mohawks at the District's gay pride street festival yesterday, a couple of guys wandered down Pennsylvania Avenue in matching Dallas Cowboys T-shirts and khaki cargo shorts.

Where they live -- in Winchester, Va., less than two hours' drive -- "you have to keep quiet, try not to draw any attention to yourself," said David Mauk, 36.

"We can't do this," he added, holding up the clasped hand of his partner, Jeremy Mullens, 29.

That's why the couple and hundreds of other small-town gay Americans headed to the District for the 32nd annual Capital Pride street festival. The celebration culminated a week of events that included a ladies dance, a prom for youth, a transgender dinner and dance and a Mr. and Ms. Capital Pride Leather competition.

Since the first gay rights rallies were organized to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, sparked when police raided a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village, gay pride events have proliferated in cities large and small throughout the country.

More than 175 pride festivals in nearly two dozen countries are registered with InterPride, a support network for such events. New York and San Francisco boast full-day, blowout parades, and more unlikely destinations, such as Salt Lake City, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Lancaster, Pa., host events.

Still, many places have little or no community or public support for gay men and lesbians. That's one reason people travel from Delaware, Pennsylvania and North Carolina for the D.C. event, said Chip Lewis, a Capital Pride spokesman. The event bills itself as the fourth-largest pride festival in the country, with more than 200,000 visitors from around the world.

Trini Moorefield, 35, drove in from Elkton, Md., near the Delaware border, with her girlfriend, Shana O'Brien, 24. "We call it 'Elk-tucky' because it's so out there," Moorefield said.

"Coming from a small town, it's nice to see so many [gay] people at one spot and to be able to steal a kiss every once in a while without people looking at you like you're crazy," she said.

Surrounding the couple, white tents shaded representatives from groups such as Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters and the Log Cabin Republicans. Whole Foods and other corporations gave out paper fans or Mardi Gras beads, and the Different Drummers, a gay marching band, snaked through the crowd playing "Turn the Beat Around."

Volunteers roamed the street with petitions and passed out pins arguing for same-sex marriage laws and an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"It's interesting to be so open and free," said Dustin Michael, 25, who drove in from the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

He and his partner, Rob Mobley, 30, said they are used to carefully guarding the details of their personal lives.

The couple traveled to the District as part of a four-car caravan with about 15 friends. Lacking gay bars or other kinds of community centers, the friends organize their own social events, including a weekly volleyball game.

Another festival-goer, Erin Kessinger, 27, wearing lavender contact lenses and spiky blond hair, said she drives to Washington for the pride events every year from Richmond because it's one place she doesn't feel like she stands out.

But in the future, she won't have to commute so far: Richmond hosted a pride event in the fall. "It was one block by one block," she said, "and surrounded by protesters. But it was fantastic."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company