PrideFest St. Louis will be occupying a brand-new venue this year as it moves to downtown St. Louis, centered at the Soldiers' Memorial. For many years, the festival and its parade were located at and around Tower Grove Park in the southern section of St. Louis. In Tower Grove Park, formerly the property of noted philanthropist Henry Shaw, the trees provided acres of shade for the festival.
When I returned to the St. Louis LGBTQ community in 2009 after a three-year sabbatical in which I chose to transition "full-life" privately, I approached Pride St. Louis. I was just beginning with TransHaven at that time. During those sabbatical years I had surreptitiously attended PrideFest, but only on the periphery of the festival grounds, as I had not yet felt comfort in coming out as trans. Yet PrideFest was "home" to me, having volunteered for and eventually become part of the management of the organization that plans and produces the festival, before resigning in late November 2006 as I planned for the "full-life" aspect of transition.
During my years with Pride and those "surreptitious visits," I noticed that trans* attendance at the festival was pretty lackluster; there was no large presence of the trans* community. Pride St. Louis and TransHaven agreed that it could be so much better if we could somehow encourage a stronger turnout of the trans* community. The organizations met several times and began to plan how we could accomplish this effort. Among other efforts, Pride St. Louis was making public service announcements for the festival, and TransHaven was asked to participate. TransHaven in turn did its share, with outreach to the trans* community, noting that with Pride St. Louis reaching out to the trans* community, we in turn should reach back and attend the festival. As it turned out, PrideFest 2010 saw the largest turn out of trans* people in the festival's history up to that time.
PrideFest 2013, which takes place June 29 and 30, will begin a new chapter of the festival with its move downtown. There have been a lot of thoughts on the move, both positive and negative, including citing the beauty of Tower Grove Park. I personally have no thought on which is the better of venues, but from a trans advocate's position, I find that the move will be important for the trans* community. While the trans* turnout had been growing phenomenally at Tower Grove Park, the venue itself is one that tends to hide the trans* community from visibility as well. Out in the open, along downtown city streets, is the visibility that the trans* community needs in order to bring about acceptance. And visibility will be achieved not only in the festival site confines and in the Pride parade but in the downtown shops, restaurants and other venues surrounding the festival site.
Visibility is what the trans* community needs. It's a factor that is so paramount in our struggle for acceptance and our rights. Despite the rich history of PrideFest in Tower Grove Park, it's time that the trans* community take back to the streets and venues as we did in the past at Cooper's, Dewey's, Black Cat, and Compton's, and then in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. Let's see the trans* community turn out at PrideFest St. Louis 2013 in numbers never before seen.
Photo courtesy of Colin Murphy/Vital Voice