At Capital Pride, a mix of politics and celebration

The Capital Pride Festival brings entertainment and attractions to a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, along with a bit of talk about politics and public policy such as repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell."
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2010

Many of the people wandering Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capital Pride festival Sunday had their minds on the buildings at either end of the famous stretch -- the Capitol and the White House, where momentous decisions about gay rights are expected this year.

Visitors who came to listen to music, chat with gay-friendly businesspeople and politicians, and soak in the scene in the June heat voiced frustration at the pace at which decisions are being made about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the armed services.

Many hoped the policy would be history by the next time the festival rolls around.

"It's still pretty tense," said Heather Lamb, a software engineer from Virginia, who said she served -- closeted -- in the Air Force in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2007. "I feel like 'don't ask, don't tell' is still kind of a wait-and-see thing."

Lamb said she lobbied Congress last month in the lead-up to votes in the Senate and House that appear to set the policy on the path to repeal. A measure that would eliminate the policy after the Pentagon completes a review, due Dec. 1, passed a House vote in late May. The Senate Armed Services Committee passed something similar last month, and a vote of the full Senate is expected this month.

"I hope that we're partying even harder next year," with a repeal of the policy, Lamb said.

The festival, held on Pennsylvania Avenue between Fourth and Seventh streets NW, drew everybody from men wearing tiny denim shorts (and nothing else) to women pushing babies in strollers and graying couples striding down the street hand-in-hand. Some stands sold funnel cakes, others advertised gay real estate agents, and yet others campaigned for and against politicians based on their positions on gay rights.

At one stand, the Virginia Partisans, a gay rights group, took pictures of people kissing a life-size cardboard cutout of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who has called the practice of homosexuality "a detriment to our culture" and advised the state's public colleges in March that they could not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"We're just going to show him some love," said Brian Cook, the organization's secretary. He said the group planned to send Cuccinelli the photographs at the end of the day.

One Waldorf woman who had her photo taken kissing Cuccinelli said that although she supported the political efforts to extend gay rights, she was at Capital Pride mainly to enjoy the afternoon.

"I like to be around my family," said Naomi Snoots, who added that she comes every year.

At the festival for the first time were Kat Burnett and her partner, who traveled from Harrington, Del., to celebrate their first anniversary together, and also to gather information on same-sex marriage, which was legalized last year in the District. They were searching for a tent that had information on how to get married.

"We're planning on getting married here" soon, said Burnett, a disabled teacher.

For some visitors, weighty questions of politics and policy were far from their minds. "I really don't care" about "don't ask, don't tell," said Raul Burgos, a government worker from the District. "I'm not in the military. If they don't want you, don't join."

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