Capital City Pride festival turns 20

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Capital City Pride, and organizers are marking the milestone with the biggest and they say best pride event yet.

It’s been 42 years since a group of drag queens, street kids and other patrons of a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village decided they’d had enough of police harassment, and by extension, societal oppression. The police raid and resulting riot that June night are considered the start of the worldwide gay rights movement.

For nearly half that time since, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in South Sound have been publicly celebrating their lives.

Pride Chairman Tony Sermonti has been running the event for three of the past four years. Two decades ago, the event was basically a rally on the Capitol steps, he said. Now, it’s a two-day event that has outgrown Sylvester Park and encompasses surrounding streets.

This year’s festival will feature a performance by Broadway star Shoshana Bean and a new beer garden in addition to vendors, food and other entertainment. The annual pride parade will start at noon Sunday on the Capitol Campus.

Sermonti points to a couple of changes in the event that have contributed to Capital City Pride’s growth: better entertainment and a more inclusive atmosphere. But he also points out that the environment is much safer for the GLBT community in 2011 than it was in 1991.

“Twenty years ago, there were many people who might lose their jobs if they came out – or face assault to their physical safety,” he said.

While there are many people today that still face that fear, Sermonti said, “It’s just a different landscape today than it was 20 years ago.”

Another factor in the growth can be attributed to Olympia’s setting. He says it’s become a celebration for the entire state.

“It’s incredible to be celebrating pride in the shadow of the state Capitol building where we’ve made tremendous legislative gains for equality and fairness,” Sermonti said.

In fact, Olympia’s event is Washington’s second biggest pride celebration (behind Seattle) and the kickoff for pride in the Pacific Northwest, Sermonti added.

Bean, now an R&B singer, will headline the “20th Anniversary Spectacular” Saturday, backed up by the Bean Trio (see accompanying story on Bean). Part of the show includes a tribute concert by musical theater performers from throughout the state.

“This is a much bigger and more professional lineup than Capital City Pride has ever had before,” said stage and entertainment director Gregory Conn.

Many of the acts have a connection to the area, including Tacoma’s Kim Archer and Olympia singer Jade Jericho. “If Debby Harry and Eminem had a love child, it would be Jade Jericho,” Conn said.

But both Conn and Sermonti stress that this is a family friendly event with games and activities for children. Conn said that the event is generally G-rated, “PG at the best. No nudity, no off color jokes.”

“We really enjoy that Olympia’s straight and gay friendly community comes out. And they do in droves. Hey, we have a beer garden,” Conn said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541,