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Getting Out More May Attract Straight Community

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"We're taking our place -- we're fitting in," says Jeff Freedman, top organizer of PrideFest, the annual gay-rights parade and festival, set this year for the North Shore's Riverfront Park on Sat., June 18. "We're not in Shadyside, which is comfortable" -- too comfortable, that is. "We've turned this into a community event. Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day. In a way, everybody's gay on this day."

 

Freedman says he's seen more straight couples bringing their kids "to celebrate diversity." Participants in the parade and festival include such groups as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Red Cross. The Pittsburgh Children's Museum will run the children's activity area. He hopes this year's parade will include more straights, including more straight politicians. "Come celebrate our lives," he says. "This isn't a lifestyle."

 

The parade will feature grand marshals for the first time this year: Jim Huggins and Randal Forrester, the "Founding Fathers of our community," Freedman calls them. The pair began the local Persad Center, concerned with mental health issues for sexual minorities, more than 30 years ago.

 

 The 2005 theme, "Equal Rights: No More, No Less," echoes the theme of the World Pride gathering, set this year for Jerusalem, which received no end of criticism from conservative groups. The organizers, InterPride.org, have delayed the event until August 2006, blaming Israeli politics.

 

Freedman says the possibility of gay marriage is still rallying conservative groups against gays rights. "Which is funny, because I was so against marriage," he says. "I couldn't imagine myself getting married. Now I could. I should."

 

Also new this year is a "Doggie Drag" contest benefiting the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. "It's not just for canines," he is quick to add. "We can't be discriminating." ("Yes, you can bring your kitty in drag," says the PrideFest press release, "if you're brave enough to attempt to hold a cat on stage while surrounded by a lot of dogs.")

 

Not new at all this year is Pride Night at a Pirates game, on June 11 -- its sixth annual incarnation. "It's also Bill Mazeroski bobblehead night," Freedman notes. "So we don't get to throw out the first pitch. I think Bill is. Damn him."

Parade starts at 11:30, festival at Noon. See www.glccpgh.org/PrideFest/index.html.

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