There was the usual craziness: the fellow who brought his pet python because it's such a "man magnet"; the woman who wore nothing above the waist but two carefully placed rainbow stickers; the Earth spirits booth offering $5 tarot card readings and free blessings to summon "great sex."
But there was a seriousness of purpose amid the revelry at the 30th annual Capital Pride Street Festival yesterday, as volunteers for the first time greeted festival-goers with a request for cash to benefit the financially troubled Whitman-Walker Clinic, the primary sponsor of the city's premier gay pride event.
"We're asking for a $5 donation," the clinic's interim executive director, Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, called to passersby entering at the west end of the festival, a collection of booths and musical stages strung along Pennsylvania Avenue NW at the foot of the U.S. Capitol.
"Is it going under?" asked a young woman in a black T-shirt as she fished in her purse.
"It's not going under. It's going to be around for a long time. It's just going to shrink a little bit," Geidner-Antoniotti replied.
The Whitman-Walker Clinic is the region's oldest and largest provider of services to people infected with HIV and is known nationally for its AIDS programs. Plummeting contributions and severe cash-flow problems forced the clinic to pull out of the Washington suburbs this month, lay off nearly a quarter of its 260-person staff and reduce or consolidate services in the city.
Standing in shorts and a blue T-shirt under a brutal sun, Geidner-Antoniotti dropped $5 bills into a bright orange bucket. Other volunteers with buckets worked elsewhere in the crowd.
At Saturday night's Capital Pride parade in Dupont Circle, the bucket brigade hauled in $3,100, Geidner-Antoniotti said. Apex nightclub raised an additional $8,000. Yesterday, clinic directors hoped to collect more than $30,000 from the 100,000 people expected to show up at the street festival, the final event in a weekend devoted to celebration of the region's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"This has traditionally been viewed as a break-even production, but we're hoping this year, through the generosity of our community, we'll make a little extra," said Kim Mills, a Whitman-Walker spokeswoman at the festival's information booth. "We could use the help."
Geidner-Antoniotti said awareness of the clinic's plight was strong among festival-goers. Many cheerfully pulled out their wallets.
"They do so much for the community," Bill McNeel, 44, of College Park said of the clinic as he and his partner, Roy Peterson, 44, ponied up the cash. "If you take away those services, there will be a lot of people affected."
Once past the bucket brigade, it was easy to forget the clinic and get lost in the eclectic collection of booths that stretched four blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue. Some were slightly weird ("Utilikilts: American Utility Kilts for Every Day Wear"). Some were totally serious ("1-800-GAYLIVE. Find him fast and easy"). But most offered rather mundane services pitched to a gay crowd.
The SmithBarney booth offered financial planning. Wedding Online had tips for sharing the big day with family and friends. There were dive clubs, swim clubs, soccer clubs, bowling clubs, antique car clubs, even a real estate agent, Evan Johnson, standing under a banner that read "MyGayAgent.com."
"Most people buying or selling want to feel comfortable," said Johnson, who works in the District and Northern Virginia. "If I'm showing a house to a couple of gay guys or lesbians, it's better if they're thinking about the house I'm showing than if they're wondering the whole time what their agent's thinking because they're looking to buy a one-bedroom together."
Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.