In Southeastern Virginia, visibility is key to advancing LGBT rights in the community and across the state.
“We need to assemble and celebrate our cultural heritage at least once a year but we also must demonstrate to Hampton Roads that we’re here. LGBT people live here, we work here, and we are an important part of this society,” says Michael Berlucchi, vice president of Hampton Roads Pride. “We feel so strongly about that fact that once a year, we organize ourselves, raise funds, and produce a huge PrideFest celebration. PrideFest is the largest festival in the region run entirely by volunteers, which speaks to how important our community regards this festival.”
Support for Hampton Roads Pride has increased significantly in recent years. “As more and more people feel empowered to come out and the LGBT community realizes social and political victories long in the making, our support base has grown,” says Berlucchi. “A bipartisan and diverse group of public officials from across the region regularly attend our events and support our cause, regional and national companies partner with Hampton Roads Pride to sponsor the festival, allied and supportive individuals and families open their hearts and homes to our community for fundraising and social events.”
Approximately 20,000 people are expected to participate in this year’s event, which will include a block party on Friday, June 26, and festival on Saturday. June 27. The events will be held in Norfolk, one of nine independent cities that form the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, which also includes Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and Williamsburg.
One unique aspect of Hampton Roads Pride the festival’s boat parade, which became part of the celebration when the festival moved to Town Point Park, situated directly on the Elizabeth River in downtown Norfolk, and offering a unique opportunity to include the river as a component of the festival.
“Southeastern Virginia has a centuries-old maritime heritage, so a Pride Boat Parade felt like an appropriate way to acknowledge and celebrate that heritage. Our waterways define our region — it’s a perfect fit,” says Berlucchi.
In addition to its maritime ties, it’s also an epicenter of military activity. Alongside a huge Navy footprint, the region hosts major Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard facilities. Following the repeal of DODT, the participation in Hampton Roads Pride by LGBT military members has grown.
“This year, our boat parade will be led by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, PrideFest will be ceremonially opened by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard, and the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band will perform the National Anthem,” says Berlucchi. “I’m delighted about this collaboration and can only imagine how encouraging and validating it is for any active, former, or potential service members.”
Saturday’s PrideFest will run from 12 noon until 7 p.m. R&B group En Vogue will headline and openly gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts is the event’s Grand Marshal.
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Troy Petenbrink is Metro Weekly's contributing writer for food and travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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