Pamela Barres drove from Rochester to attend Buffalo’s Gay Pride Parade and Gay Pride Festival to have fun and drum up support for a proposed state law to make it illegal to discriminate against transsexuals.
Rose Knapp, of Buffalo, showed up at the festival so she could spend time with her partner, show off her 6-month-old granddaughter and “be myself.”
Steve and Kimberly Steck, of Grand Island, said they brought their three young children to the festival so they could teach them that it’s all right for some people to be different from others.
They were all part of a huge, joyous, boisterous crowd that showed up at Canalside in downtown Buffalo on Sunday for what organizers believe is the biggest series of gay pride events in the city’s history.
“We’re ecstatic,” said Justin Azzarella, one of the Pride Festival organizers. “I’m estimating that we have about 15,000 people here at Canalside today. Earlier today, we had our biggest parade ever. This is all about letting Buffalo know – and letting everyone know – that this is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people to be open about themselves and enjoy themselves.”
Gay organizations in Buffalo have had an annual festival for the last 22 years, but this year is the first time the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has had a full week of events, Azzarella said.
The events included a “pride flag-raising ceremony” Tuesday with Mayor Byron W. Brown outside City Hall and an “LGBTQ” art opening that was held Friday night in memory of attorney and gay rights advocate James E. Rolls. The Pride Center of Western New York will sponsor a “beach day” at Woodlawn State Park from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. today.
The Sunday afternoon Pride Parade in Elmwood Village featured a record 98 floats, up from 64 last year. The biggest event was the Canalside gathering, which featured bands, deejays in dance tents, a wide array of food and drinks, and family-friendly events. For the first time, national acts were brought in, including Latrice Royal, a flamboyant soul singer who performs on the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” show on cable television.
“I think this is extraordinary,” said Barres, 70. “We have a festival in Rochester every year that is very nice, but it’s never been as big as this event. … It’s a lot of fun.”
But for Barres, a transsexual who has been married to the same woman for 49 years, there was also a serious purpose at hand. Wearing a pink hat, pink shoes, black pants and a white “Empire State Pride Agenda” T-shirt, the Rochester visitor was promoting a proposed law called GENDA, or the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which has been pending before state lawmakers for six years.
“Right now, when people express a gender that is different from their birth gender, they can be fired from a job, refused service in a restaurant or kicked out of their apartment. We’re trying to stop that kind of discrimination in New York State,” Barres said.
“Sixteen other states already have laws like this. The New York State Assembly has voted to pass our law for six years, but the State Senate refuses to bring it to a vote.”
Others in attendance, such as Knapp, Jake Jacobell and Ray Grover, were looking to enjoy the waterfront and have fun.
“I can just be myself,” said Knapp, 40, who was pushing a stroller containing her granddaughter, Tamyla.
“I love this event. You can come here and be yourself, and no one is calling you insulting names,” said Jacobell, 59, a former store manager who is disabled because of a back injury.
“I came out in 1979,” said Grover, 63, a factory worker. “Things were different then. You closeted yourself. You didn’t march in parades. Things are different now … better.”
Azzarella, 35, vice president for community development with Evergreen Health Services, said he is proud to be a coordinator of the event.
“I’m so proud of being gay, but it’s just a part of what I am,” he said.
“I’m also an Eagle Scout, a son, an employee and a lot of other things. I would guess that half the people here today are our straight allies who just came to be with us and show support.”
That is why the Stecks – Steve Steck, a teacher, and his wife, Kimberly, a nurse practitioner – came to the festival from Grand Island. They brought their children – Sophia, 8; Charlotte, 6, and Ben, 10.
“It’s a beautiful day on the waterfront, and we’ve always been supportive of gay rights,” Steve Steck said.
“It’s OK for people to be different,” Kimberly Steck said. “That’s what I was explaining to the kids on the way here.”