Photographs by Randy Shulman and Michael Wichita
It didn’t rain. Not a single drop. Not on the parade, not on the festival.
But as late as 5:20 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, the downpours remained steady and torrential, as rain pounded the city and suburbs, bringing flash floods and event cancellations — including a washed out Dyke March — throughout the area.
Pride organizers remained adamant: the parade would go on. Rain or shine. And in the end, while there was no literal sunshine, the evening shone bright with pride, as the stormy weather relented and the skies declined to rain on our parade.
Despite the wet Saturday and cloudy Sunday, Capital Pride presenter Whitman-Walker Clinic claimed the weekend celebration as the most successful ever. Parade attendance was a bit sparse in the second year of its Saturday evening presentation — unsurprising, given the continued threat of rain — but 70 organizations and groups turned out to march. And thousands filled Pennsylvania Avenue the next day for the Capital Pride Festival, where more than 150 booths and a roster of exceptional entertainers kept the crowds engaged from noon till dusk.
As the parade marched through Dupont’s wet, shimmering streets, a pink fairy led the way, shouting encouragement to the crowd: “Come on people, it’s not raining!”
The smaller crowd gave the traditional event a more intimate feel, with everyone able to get close to the marchers and at times leaving little difference between those parading and those spectating.
Still, the weather dampened the spirits of some.
“Last year was better,” said Delia Cole, of D.C. “It was sunny and there were more people.”
Sunday’s Capital Pride Festival fared much better, with the overcast skies providing a comfortable temperature for the assembled masses, who wandered from booth to vendor to stage, exploring everything from activism to arts to cocker spaniel kisses.
“It’s my first pride,” said David Bowen, 23, visiting from New York City. “I think it’s fabulous. I love it.” He added, however, that he wanted “to see more craziness.”
The Festival Main Stage boasted a grand assortment of divas, dancers and drag queens — as well as an eclectic and energetic array of local and regional bands, and an occasional speaker or two. Festival mainstays Ella Fitzgerald, luxuriously draped in royal purple, and the D.C. Cowboys, with their trademarked combo of Broadway-style verve, sizzling sex appeal and rugged good looks, reliably wowed the crowd, while the D.C. Drag Kings fired up a rousing number from Chicago.
Local rockin’ girl group Outskirts performed a grab bag of pop melodies, including the disco ditty “Bad Girls.” Waking State rocked steady with a thunderous and sensual set. Hot Honey Magnet’s transcendental melodic riffs left chills. The enjoyable Oktober World may have taken a few too minutes at the start of their act to engage in a little shameless self-promotion, but their full-funk throttle brought the crowd to full sway. And alt-rocker Eric Himan, armed with just a guitar and sporting a gallery of tattoos, offered up a passionate, soaring pride-filled performance.
“After four years of doing something, you wonder if you can top yourself,” said Capital Pride Director Robert York of this year’s entertainment line-up, which also boasted three extreme divas — Thelma Houston, Pepper MaShay and Jennifer Holliday — all of whom performed with incomparable style and extraordinary vocal prowess.
Holliday dedicated her crowd-pleasing Dream Girls signature, “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going),” to everyone who came out to Pride. “If it wasn’t for the gay and lesbian community,” she said, “I don’t think this dream girl would still be up here singing twenty years later.”
“Are you all ‘Queer as Folk?'” exclaimed MaShay, returning to Capital Pride for a second year, before launching into her hit, “Dive In the Pool.” And Houston’s “bread and butter” number — “Don’t Leave Me This Way” — has only aged better in the twenty-seven years since the lady first recorded it. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it better.
As the 28-year-old festival grows in scope and attendance with each passing year, many point to the community atmosphere as their favorite aspect of the day.
“[It’s] everyone getting together and being a community,” said Tim Bernadzikowski, 35, of Laurel, Maryland. “We are all in this together. Each person is not alone, and together we can make a difference.”