Capital City Pride Festival spreads rainbow spirit this weekend in downtown Olympia

The rainbow flags are a-flying in downtown Olympia this weekend for the 24th annual Capital City Pride Festival.

Centered at Sylvester Park beneath blue skies, this annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is the biggest yet. Event co-organizer and emcee Gregory Conn said the number of booths and parade entries have increased 20 percent over last year.

“I hope everybody leaves here happier than when they came,” Conn said Saturday, “and ready to spread that joy to the rest of the community.”

The family-friendly festival features a beer garden and live entertainment all weekend, including Saturday’s headliner and self-professed diva, Thea Austin. A parade begins at noon Sunday at the Capitol Building’s steps, and will be led by seven rainbow-colored Mini Coopers.

There are multiple vendors and advocacy booths. The non-profit organization Mpowerment Washington is selling “Mpowerment cards” good for discounts at local businesses. Proceeds go toward HIV testing and prevention programs, with a goal of raising $2,000.

Board treasurer Dylan Elkhart said Mpowerment is trying to cover the gap after the state Department of Health cut grant funding in 2013. Testing is an expensive but crucial step for HIV prevention among gay men, he said, adding that Mpowerment is working to improve access in Olympia and Thurston County.

“We’re kind of the only game in town for HIV prevention,” Elkhart told The Olympian. “HIV affects our whole community.”

Rainbow pride isn’t limited to Sylvester Park. Across from nightclub Jake’s on Fourth, volunteers prepped the vacant Griswold building for a new mural. Several businesses and organizations want to improve the neglected building’s appearance - and send a positive message.

The rainbow-themed mural by local artist Vince Ryland will call on people to “love and respect Olympia.” The mural replaces a previous painting, also by Ryland, that depicts Boston Harbor and the waterfront.

Sarah Adams, owner of local business Psychic Sister, said the mural is also a grass-roots effort in response to a hate crime. In April, Olympia police reported that a man inside Jake’s was punched in the face by a suspect who was yelling homophobic remarks.

“Respect is the resource we have in the shortest supply,” Adams said while sweeping sidewalks Saturday. “We don’t have any positive messaging like that downtown.”

Along with prepping the mural, the Olympia Downtown Ambassador Program and Clean Team joined volunteers Saturday by painting the Paprika Café entrance at Fourth Avenue and Franklin Street. Such efforts can help strengthen pride for downtown businesses while giving visitors the impression that people are taking ownership of the area, said program manager Rob Richards.

“There’s something to be said for putting positive energy in a space,” he said.