Capital Pride Festival

Proud Voices

Drag queen Destiny B. Childs hosts and directs "Freddie's Follies," a weekly show at Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant in Arlington.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008

Larry Stansbury was up from Richmond one weekend, wandering the summertime streets of Washington, entertaining himself with an amateur's study of local architecture.

It was the mid-'70s, and he was pushing 30. When a crowd hustled by up Connecticut Avenue, Stansbury casually glommed on to the pack.

That half-conscious curiosity led to a wonderland of sorts, right there on S Street NW.

"Lo and behold, there was this festival going on," he recalls. "And it was like you found this pocket of people that had so much in common with you. It was just that feeling of exhilaration . . . that level of comfort where you can just be yourself."

That was Capital Pride (then called Gay Pride), the early years. A block party spearheaded by Deacon Maccubbin, owner of Lambda Rising bookstores. There were trucks full of beer and soda, neighbors out on their porches and about 2,000 folks in attendance.

This year, this weekend, there will be 200,0 00. Or more.

Still, says Stansbury, who moved to the District soon after and became deeply involved with organizing the festival, the goal is to help people "achieve that same experience I had."

"You come to an event like this, and there's just such a positive feeling," he says. "I like to think that everybody gets a chance to feel that at least once in their life."

The 33rd annual Capital Pride festival kicked off last Friday but hits its stride this weekend when it tilts into a 48-hour finale with a jubilant, 20-block parade, a street fair along Pennsylvania Avenue and soirees throughout the city.

Capital Pride organizers say theirs is now the fourth largest such event in the nation, and it continues to grow every year.

"It's a celebration of community -- not just LGBT, but of our allies and Washington," says David Mallory, deputy director of community relations for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which has run the festival celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyle for more than a decade. "There's something for everybody."

I ndeed, Capital Pride, which generates millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses, organizers say, was voted best festival in a Washington City Paper reader's poll this year. (Think about that: It means that the National Cherry Blossom Festival was a runner-up!)

In an election year, though, and at a time when gay marriage and lawsuits contesting it are front-page news, Capital Pride isn't concerned only with celebration.

"Despite our gains, it is a political statement -- to be right there on Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol in the background," Mallory says.

Stansbury will show up this weekend, as he has since that first stroke of fortune 30 years ago. It entails a lot more work now: helping to pull it off rather than stumbling into it. But it's worth it, and the wonder remains.

"You pause for just one short moment and look out across the stage at that mass of humanity with that common element pulling us together," he muses. "If you've never experienced it, it's hard to describe.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company