Metro Weekly

Capital Pride Makes a Phenomenal, Historic Return

Capital Pride roared back to life with record crowds, a high-energy concert and parade, and a surprise appearance by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Willow Pill - Photo: Ted Eytan/Capital Pride
Willow Pill – Photo: Ted Eytan/Capital Pride

“Happy Pride, everyone!”

The words, exclaimed so often, so jubilantly to a massive, cheering crowd from those on the main stage at Capital Pride, had special relevance last Sunday.

It was a moment that history was made.

The speaker was Vice President Kamala Harris, sporting a pink jacket and a smile that shone as brightly as the sun, casting a golden, magic-hour glow. With her words of greeting, Harris became the highest senior-level member of a current administration to speak at an LGBTQ pride event.

“What a glorious day!” Harris said, as she strode onto the stage, joined by her husband, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos, Capital Pride Alliance President Ashley Smith, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Symone, and longtime Capital Pride emcees Jerry Houston and Destiny B. Childs.

The vice president wasted no time in explaining why she had come to address the estimated 450,000 LGBTQ people and allies gathered to celebrate the return of Capital Pride to Pennsylvania Avenue after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus.

“We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters!” Harris said. “We will continue to build unity. We will continue to build coalitions. We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us. We will fight with pride.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff at Pride – Photo: Ted Eytan/Capital Pride

It was really kind of spontaneous,” Bos later told Metro Weekly of the surprise appearance. “We knew there was a desire for her to come to D.C. Pride. So, yeah, it was historic.”

The Vice President’s appearance was just one of many amazing things to come out of Capital Pride Weekend, held from June 11-12. This year’s events included the return of multiple parties, a refashioned parade route that traversed the “gayborhoods” of Dupont and Logan Circles, and concluded with a star-studded festival concert headlined by an energized Joe Jonas and his band DNCE.

The weekend officially kicked off with the sold-out RIOT! opening party on Friday, June 10, at Echostage, where headliner Symone, winner of season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, dazzled audiences alongside a collection of local LGBTQ performers as they welcomed Pride. The event reportedly raised $100,000 for the Capital Pride Alliance.

Saturday’s Pride Parade featured an estimated 57 floats, with more than 200,000 people lining the streets of Northwest Washington to watch them glide by. It was an afternoon filled with rainbows, glitter, a bit of vodka (for some), and many, many, many hugs.

One of those hug-givers was Barbra Michelman, a yearly Pride attendee who stood at the corner of 14th and P Streets NW, waving a neon green poster with “Free Mom Hugs” written in bold blue letters.

“My first experience was coming down and holding one of these signs, and I definitely got more out of the experience than I think I gave,” Michelman said, discussing how the reception to her hugs has changed over the years. She explained that although the need for supportive mothers hasn’t decreased, the types of people asking for hugs have.

“It used to be mostly gay men,” she said. “I’m seeing a lot more trans kids who are showing up for Pride. I just want a lot of kids who never felt accepted to know that there are moms like me that love them. And I don’t think there’s anything they need to change.”

This year’s parade charted a new path. The route started on 14th Street NW, in the Logan Circle neighborhood, trekking southward before turning onto Rhode Island Avenue, then crossing to Massachusetts Avenue, and winding around Dupont Circle to finish on P Street NW.

Photo: Derricka McCray/Capital Pride

Drag queens throwing beads, rainbow confetti flying seemingly everywhere, hoards of people celebrating while dancing up against the parade barricades — it was a quintessential pride parade. The constant stream of pride pop, including Lady Gaga’s “Rain On Me,” Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody,” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” were the anthems of the day, blasting from speakers perched on various floats. DC’s Different Drummers got to show off their new marching uniforms, while various local politicians earned points by showing their support for the LGBTQ community.

On the corner of P Street and Dupont Circle, Emily Lewis was in a dancing mood. She had traveled from Montgomery County, Maryland, to celebrate her first pride.

“This has been amazing,” she said. “I’m so happy to be here, with so many people. It just makes me feel just at home like I love it. I’m just so happy with the progression of this world and that I get to experience where we can be out and we can live our lives. I’m just so happy to be here and that we can see all of this go down.”

Sunday’s Capital Pride Festival and Concert took place along its customary stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between 7th and 3rd Streets. As always, the festival boasted hundreds of booths, organized based on their mission, featuring local churches, vendors, volunteer organizations, sports teams, and sponsors.

Logan Dawson, the newly-elected commissioner of the DC Gay Flag Football League, was filled with an infectiously positive attitude. He was working at Team DC’s “Sports Zone” section with the NFL’s Washington Commanders, who were participating in Pride for the first time and promoting their upcoming Pride-themed game day.

Photo: Brandon Bayton/Capital Pride

“Some of us have been to lots of Prides,” Dawson said. “But there’s always someone here [celebrating] their first. The community showing up and being visible is important for those folks.”

Reginald L. Douglas, the artistic director of Mosaic Theater, felt that Pride provided a platform for the community to celebrate, even though the fight for LGBTQ equality is far from over.

“Everything for me is about resilience and celebration in spite of those who try to kill us, shut us down, push us down,” he said. “And we’re doing it with joyful laughing and smiling and dancing. It’s a celebration.

“I’m very, very grateful to be here, inspired to be here,” he continued. “I keep watching all the kids walking around, with their pronouns on their shirts, and seeing their parents with them, and it feels like a new day has sprung. So I’m ready. I’m excited about what’s next.”

Anna Jung came to the festival in support of her out son and to raise awareness for the Korean Queer and Transgender Organization of D.C. Jung hopes that the exposure from these events can help create welcoming spaces for LGBTQ Koreans in the area to celebrate their identities long after the month of June has passed.

“It gives people a chance to celebrate who they are and to be seen as their authentic selves,” Jung said. “We have somebody that we know doesn’t have the affirming support at home. And so being here helps them feel that even though they can’t get that for themselves and from their families, there are plenty of other people out here who love and support them and really value who they are, as they are.”

Tonya Wish, holding a unicorn and dressed from head to toe in rainbow colors, was working a booth to inform the public about PrEP, the medication that can minimize potential exposure to HIV and AIDS.

“Everyone has sex, right?” she smiled. “No matter what orientation you are — gay, straight, bisexual, all of the rainbow colors, whatever color you represent — everyone is having sex. So everyone needs to be safe. Protect themselves and their partners.”

Photo: Catrece Tipon/Capital Pride

Taylor Lianne Chandler, a Capital Pride board member, reflected on the jubilant atmosphere at the various events held throughout the weekend.

“The energy is just everything,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to get this together. But at the end of the day, for everybody that comes to participate, I want it to be perfect. That’s our goal.”

Over at the concert stage, Grammy award-winner Jody Watley arrived wearing a black leather bodysuit with fringe. She sang her 1987 classic “Looking for a New Love” to an adoring crowd.

She was followed by Vice President Harris, drag queen Domingo, and Vincint, who performed his hit “Their Will Be Tears” to the crowd’s elation. He was followed by Symone, who, among other songs, performed a rendition of Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.

“Well, child, it feels lovely,” Symone said following the performance. “I think this is the biggest Pride I’ve ever done. It feels good. The energy is great. The energy!”

Willow Pill, winner of season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, emerged next, wearing a space helmet with horns. By the time her set ended, with Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” her hair had miraculously shifted from red to bleach blond.

“Playing Pride is different because you’re normally in dark little dingy clubs, and it’s sticky and everyone’s wasted and it’s midnight,” Willow told Metro Weekly after the performance. “It’s fun to have crowds that are of all ages and anyone can come join. It’s a different monster, but it’s fun.

Willow was happy to be “experiencing queer joy with my queer and trans friends…. You just want to be joyful and to have, like, good memories to balance out a lot of the difficulties and trauma. I think enjoying each other’s company and protecting each other is the most important thing.”

Joe Jonas and DNCE at Pride – Photo: Patrick Magee/Capital Pride

The concert wrapped with headliner DNCE — Jack Lawless on drums, JinJoo Lee on guitar, and, arguably the day’s biggest draw, vocalist Joe Jonas, who wore skin-tight silver pants and a tank top. The crowd went nuts as the band performed its signature songs, “Toothbrush,” “Dancing Feet,” and “Cake By the Ocean.”

As streams of colored lights mixed with the fog machine, the stage became a thrilling rainbowscape. Jonas’s high-energy performance encapsulated the fervently joyous vibes that carry through the month of June for LGBTQ people worldwide.

As the evening ended to the beats of DJ Tracy Young, holding court over the traditional Sunset Dance, Ryan Bos was exhausted, visibly happy, and proud. Bos told Metro Weekly that returning to a record-setting Pride with historic overtones after two years was like letting loose a huge exhale.

“I feel a fulfillment with the joy and the smiles,” he said. “People keep coming up to me just saying, ‘Oh, my God, after these last few years, it’s so amazing to come back together as a community.'”

Amazing, indeed.

Browse all the photos from the 2022 Capital Pride Parade.

Browse all the photos from the 2022 Capital Pride Festival and Concert.

Browse all the photos from the RIOT! Opening Dance Party.

For more information on Capital Pride’s events throughout the year, and to volunteer for next year, visit www.capitalpride.org.

Follow Capital Pride on Twitter at @capitalpridedc.

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