Capital City shows its Pride this weekend

In its 24th year, the Capital City Pride Festival — the local celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community — has a new feeling.

“This one is different in so many ways,” said Anna Schlecht, the festival chairperson. “It really feels like we’ve finally become part of the breadth of society. It’s just so exciting to feel seen, recognized, accepted.

“I have to shake my head sometimes, because it wasn’t always that way,” she said. “I don’t want to look to the bad old days, but 30 years ago, we would have had difficulty finding places to rent rooms to organize our festival.”

One sign of the change: advertising.

The parade will be led by seven Mini Coopers in a rainbow of shades — and one in tie-dye — carrying, among others, Grand Marshal Miss Tina Turntable, also known as Larry Francisco; Pride Day Award winner Lynn Grotsky, being honored for her work with the teen support program Pizza Klatch; and Activist of the Year winner Virgil Clarkson, who is a member of the Lacey City Council and was instrumental in starting the local chapter of PFLAG.

Puget Sound Mini Cooper, which is lending and delivering the cars, has been offering them to pride parades throughout the region.

“What our advertisers are doing is showing that they believe in the LGBT community,” Schlecht said. “They’re investing in the LGBT community.

“This is their part of turning the page in American history — and they’re doing it in a really fun way.”

The festival’s Friday kickoff, with a street dance and firewalkers, is more festive than before, and the festival, which shrunk to one day last year, is back to two. And then there’s the entertainment.

“We’re having our biggest diva ever, Thea Austin, a chart-topping recording artist,” Schlecht said.

You might not know Austin’s name, but you’ve likely danced, or at least felt the urge to, to some of her music. She’s sung on several dance hits, most notably Snap’s 1992 “Rhythm Is a Dancer,” which she co-wrote. She’s also the singer and co-writer behind Snap’s “I’ve Got the Power,” Soulsearcher’s “Can’t Get Enough” and Pusaka’s “You’re the Worst Thing for Me.”

Austin doesn’t shy from the title of diva. “To me, a diva is someone with courage, someone who isn’t afraid to tackle challenges, someone with high style,” she told Dallas Voice, a weekly LGBT newspaper. “Just by my nature of living life and loving life, I suppose that I have acquired certain diva-like characteristics.”

Getting an artist at Austin’s level is no fluke, Schlecht said.

“We received a call from a Grammy winner,” she said. “We had to tell him our schedule was full.”

The artist, whom she declined to name, even offered to perform free, she said. She sees the interest in performing as a sign that pride festivals can be great venues for a performer to connect with an audience.

“People are recognizing that these events are great celebrations of fun and community,” she said. “I think the concept of small-town pride has arrived. It’s big enough to offer big-name entertainment, but it’s small enough for people to feel that they belong.”