Taking Pride in PrideFest

On its surface, Knoxville isn't exactly a town brimming with diversity. (See this issue's report on census results.) But beneath its placid exterior are communities within communities that often go about their business unnoticed—until they take the time to show the rest of the city what they're all about. That was the case last weekend with a crowded festival schedule, including Kuumba, Brewfest, and dragon boats—and the 2011 PrideFest (which we sponsored) stood out as a colorful example of just how many truly unique people our little city actually holds.

Dedicating itself to "inclusion of all people," PrideFest is ostensibly a time for the LGBT community to gather together and publicly celebrate their identities—which means it's a street party about individuality, for individuals of every sort. Market Square was jammed on Saturday afternoon, and while there were info booths from groups such as PFLAG and Positively Living, the real attraction was attendees themselves. Every permutation of humanity and its various orientations was present and having a good time in a non-judgmental atmosphere; the whole point of being there was just to be there—and to enjoy being yourself.

This year's festival featured a full slate of entertainers on the Market Square stage, ranging from singer/songwriter (and WDVX host) Karen Reynolds to pop-punkers Your Favorite Hero to headliner Tiffany. But the real crowd pleaser was the drag queen showcase, stocked with performers from local clubs who displayed their charms even under the hot late afternoon sun. While there were more grandiose and acrobatic performers, the showstopper was Mama Harper from Kurt's Bar. Attired in a full muumuu and glasses, she appeared more like a dragmom—and her set list consisted of the theme songs from '70s and '80s sitcoms like Cheers and The Jeffersons, which she lip-synced while giving audience members hugs. For her finale, she kicked out the old chestnut "We Are Family," which inspired the crowd, from preschool kids to senior citizens, to join Harper on stage to sing the song together. It was a pretty awesome sight, ending with Harper's impromptu speech urging people to create their own families wherever they may find themselves—a fine message underlying all the festivities that day.