Together, we’ve shared many proud moments.
While we celebrate our victories, let’s never forget how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
Take a trip through PrideFest history:
For more historic milestones, visit our Facebook Timeline.
1987: The Year in Pop Culture
Company B, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Jody Watley and Madonna dominated the dance charts, along with Erasure, Depeche Mode and MARRS (Pump Up the Volume.)
The Cosby Show, Roseanne and Golden Girls topped the TV ratings, but Max Headroom, 21 Jump Street, ALF, St. Elsewhere and Moonlighting were popular “people’s choices.” The Simpsons appeared on TV for the very first time, as a skit on FOX’s Tracy Ullman Show. The anti-drug “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign launches. REMOTE CONTROL debuts on MTV as its first non-music programming, as does HEADBANGERS BALL.
Dirty Dancing, Fatal Attraction, and Moonstruck ruled the theaters. LGBT films MAURICE (starring Hugh Grant) and Pedro Almodovar’s LAW OF DESIRE (starring Antonio Banderas) play at the Oriental Theater. Todd Haynes’ SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY, an underground film starring only Barbie dolls, is released,causes a furious Carpenter family lawsuit, and is eventually banned.
Prozac, Red Bull and disposable contacts are sold for the first time ever. The first criminal is convicted using DNA evidence. The “Baby M” custody battle makes same-sex couples think twice about surrogacy.
First Stage Children’s Theater, Milwaukee Mustangs, Water Street Brewery, Lakefront Brewery are founded in Milwaukee.
Hillary Duff, Darren Criss, Zac Efron, Tim Tebow, and Snooki are born.
ACT UP holds its first public protest
Outraged by the Reagan administration’s mismanagement and neglect of the AIDS crisis, ACT UP hosts a massive protest on Wall Street on March 24, 1987, to protest pharmaceutical companies profiteering while thousands of Americans are dying of AIDS. Seventeen people are arrested.
Shortly after the demonstration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces it will shorten its drug approval process by two years. However, President Ronald Reagan does not mention the AIDS crisis until May 31, 1987, by which time over 71,000 were diagnosed with AIDS and over 41,000 had already died.
Mobilization of the LGBT community leads to other direct-action groups, including the Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation, and fuels a surging sense of community awareness and activism.
Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights
The AIDS Memorial Quilt is unveiled for the first time at the event. Over 2,000 couples were united in a mass community wedding outside the Internal Revenue Office. The event inspires National Coming Out Day, which is held on October 11 every year since 1988.
The massive outpouring of LGBT pride creates a groundswell of activism, visibility and community on a national scale — which leads to the formation of the Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee, now known as Milwaukee Pride, Inc.
Moments of Pride 1987: Jacqui Keller
I saw two woman kissing and thought that is normal like my mommy. I saw two men kissing and thought that is normal like my godfather. I saw a man dressed like a woman and thought, “how does he get his hair so pretty?”
I saw the community as a loving place, a bright spot in a gray world. I thought that was how the world should be. Most of all, i felt love from every one and that is community.
Every child should have that kind of family.”
Moments of Pride 1987: Troy Zierer
“I was 17 way back in 1987.
My community really didn’t have pride back then, and still doesn’t now. But luckily, I live close enough to Green Bay to be proud of who I was back then, and who I still am today.
The gay community in Green Bay is loving and I became a ROW (Rainbow Over Wisconsin) member to try and give back what was given to me.”
PrideFest is born at the Milwaukee ’88 Lesbian Gay Celebration
One September 10, 1988, the first “official” LGBT pride event in Milwaukee is held in Mitchell Park with the theme “Rightfully Proud.” This pride celebration, hosted by the Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee, is the first in a series that continues today with PrideFest Milwaukee.
The modest event included just a small community picnic and rally, but it inspired two weeks of ongoing events sponsored by other Milwaukee organizations that were attended by hundreds of people. Activities included a softball tournament, formal ball, town hall meeting with elected officials, and a Milwaukee Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival. The agenda did not include a pride parade. Although organized by gays and lesbians, the event was well attended by transgender and bisexual persons as well.
Even without a permanent home, performers, vendors, sponsors, financial sustainability or political support, the successful event demonstrated how “pride” and “community” can unite people against all odds. These values remain at the heart of PrideFest Milwaukee to this day.
Moments of Pride 1988: Rick Quade
I am very greatful that things are still moving in a positive direction for us. Let’s all keep fighting for what we believe in!”
The Milwaukee Pride Parade begins as a Pride March
Today’s Milwaukee Pride Parade is a more festive affair than it was in 1989, when the Pride March was more of a political statement than a cultural celebration.
The theme, “Stonewall 20: A Generation of Pride,” reflected on the progress gays and lesbians had made since the 1969 Stonewall riots — and the long road ahead towards acceptance and equality.
Most importantly, the pride march and rally were officially recognized by both Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist and Milwaukee County Executive Dave Schulz.
Mayor Norquist attended the Cathedral Square rally and addressed the crowds with open arms. “We are proud of who you are,” he said in closing, words no one ever expected a Milwaukee mayor to say.
This was a historic moment that legitimized LGBT pride activities in Milwaukee for the first time ever, marking a turning point in the city’s history.
Of course, religious protesters showed up to sour the day’s events. They picketed the pride march and rally, and threatened the mayor and county executive with recall elections. Their protests actually backfired, because media coverage of the march and rally made all three local news broadcasts and the cover of the Sunday, June 18 Milwaukee Journal.
PrideFest, as it would later be known, had officially arrived on the scene. And we weren’t going back into the closet ever again.
Moments of Pride 1989: Midnight Estes
I’d venture into my mom’s nightstand drawer and try on her wigs. I would paint my fingernails with some of my female cousins.
One day, I wore one of those bright plastic Goody barrettes to school, and wore it the entire day, despite the fact that the other kids teased me. Pride was wearing a pink backpack to pre-school. Pride was being obsessed with My Little Pony. I even expressed myself thru my artwork (not in a transgender sense, but in the sense that I was different from all the other males.)
Most importantly, pride was not worrying about what others thought of me, at the tender age of 4 .”
PrideFest 1990 is held in Cathedral Square
Following the success of the 1989 Pride March and Rally, the Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee hosted another rally in Cathedral Square.
The theme of 1990 was “Looking Forward: The Gay 90s.”
There were no performers, no vendors, and no stages — simply a picnic and political rally in the park.
Moments of Pride 1990: Bart Therock
“1990 was a good year for me, I had been out for 3 years and was SO glad to be out and proud.
There were still many struggles and homophobes, but the people that marched in the Pride Parade didnt care. We were marching for pride, respect, and for what we believed in.
I was starting to become an AIDS activist, so I could tell the gay community to have safe sex, stad strong, and never give up fighting for our rights.
These are my moments of pride from 1990.”
PrideFest 1991 is held in Juneau Park
For the first time in 1991, the political marches and rallies of the past transformed into a pride celebration. Food vendors, entertainment, and the very first edition of the “Pride Guide” created a festival-like atmosphere in the park with the theme “Together in Pride.”
Unfortunately, no official attendance records exist for this year.
The 1991 festival is remembered by many as the last bright and shining moment in a summer that quickly turned dark.
Only six weeks later, Milwaukee’s LGBT community was shattered by the discovery that serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had taken the lives of over a dozen local gay men. As more and more details of the case were revealed, the spirit of Milwaukee plunged into a downward spiral that would take years to overcome.
Moments of Pride 1991: Liz Roepke
“It was my first time being “out” anywhere, except on bus rides and hotel rooms with my college basketball team.
To me, it was freedom — even though I had run home to watch the news at night with my grandma, so I could distract her if I may have been caught on camera!”
Moments of Pride 1991: Danny Katz
“I was ten years old and loving Madonna a little TOO much!
I was beyond a hairbrush singer, I was a full on Cher/Bette/Madonna/Cyndi/Tiffany/Debbie/Barbra lover, dancing on tables while my family watched, preteen performer!
I mean what ten year old boy didn’t do dramatic lipsyncs to “Out of the Blue”, I ask you? I miss the early 90s!”
Moments of Pride 1991: Katie Maedke-Hall
“My mom came out to me in 1991. I was 11. It was my first summer at Michfest, my first PrideFest and my first AIDS walk.
It was easy to accept my mom, but it took me another 20 years to accept myself.”
PrideFest 1992 is held in Juneau Park
The parade, which circled from Prospect to Water along Kilbourn and Wisconsin, ran from 1:00-1:45PM, was followed by a rally, performances, the Queer Nation mass wedding, and a show by the BJ Daniels Revue. The entire festival was over by sunset.
Tammy Baldwin, then lobbying for State Assembly, was the keynote speaker. Another esteemed guest was Joan Jett Blakk, the first “queer” candidate for President, who actually appeared on the election ballot in some states as the Queer Nation delegate.
PrideFest 1992 was, at the time, one of the largest pride celebrations in Milwaukee history. Yet, as the welcome speech said, it was “twelve months in the planning and only one day in the happening.”
Thanks to the Wisconsin Gay and Lesbian History Project, you can READ the 1992 Pride Guide online.
Mayor Norquist vetoes funding to the Pride Parade
On January 21, 1992, Mayor John Norquist, long considered an ally of the LGBT community, shocked many by vetoing a $5,000 allocation from the city’s festival fund to the Milwaukee Lesbian / Gay Parade.
Many suspected this was an attempt to silence the g rowing expression of LGBT pride in Milwaukee. Before PrideFest had permanent festival grounds, the parade truly represented the community’s size, political influence, and LGBT pride. Killing the parade would have been a terrible blow to the rapidly accelerating pride movement.
“Parades and festivals are meant to be non-controversial,” said Norquist in the Milwaukee Sentinel. “It would be as improper as using property taxes to pay for a pro-life or pro-choice parade.”
The mayor said that he was a strong supporter of LGBT rights, and was aware that gays and lesbians paid property taxes, but that “using taxpayer dollars for this type of parade is inappropriate.”
“Property tax funding for a parade is not the cutting edge of civil rights for gays and lesbians. The issue here is not civil rights — the issue is the use of property tax dollars.”
The vice president of the Milwaukee Lesbian / Gay Pride Committee, which organized the parade, said that Norquist was “playing political Pontius Pilate and washing his hands of queer blood.”
Before the veto, the Common Council had already approved spending $5,000 of the $200,000 budget on the pride parade in a 9-6 vote. Overriding Norquist’s action would have required an 11-6 vote.
Letters to the Editor poured in from places far and wide about this decision. Two individuals were actually arrested protesting Mayor Norquist’s decision at the Milwaukee Press Club 1992 “City of Milwaukee Birthday Party.”
Moments of Pride 1992: Mark Weber
I graduated in the class of 1992, right after Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested. If it wasn’t for him being arrested, I might not have developed street smarts — out in the bars, at parties or at someone’s house.
His arrest taught me life lessons at 18 years old.
PrideFest also provided me a safe first-time festival experience!
1992 was when my life truly started, with great memories and lessons learned!”
PrideFest 1993 is held in Juneau Park
By 1993, PrideFest had already outgrown Juneau Park, and festival organizers knew that something needed to change. So, for the first time ever, they planned a 2-day festival over Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the growing crowds.
What they couldn’t possibly have imagined was that over 12,000 people would show up over the two-day period, nearly doubling the size of the previous year’s attendance!
The 1993 festival featured LGBT sports and a youth area for the first time ever, as well as a rummage sale fundraiser, a Saturday concert, and Sunday’s parade and rally.
No official PrideGuide exists for 1993. Coverage was limited to LGBT publications such as the Wisconsin Light and InStep.
Pride organizers had to come up with something bigger, better and more bold for 1994. But PrideFest still had no permanent home, and there was always the risk that the group wouldn’t be able to find one.
One million people march on Washington for LGBT rights
April 25, 1993
After the Second March on Washington in 1987, the LGBT community enjoyed new visibility and broadening liberties, but it still wasn’t enough.
Many were concerned about discriminatory policies — such as the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” — and the disturbing increase in LGBT-related hate crimes. And the community came together to make themselves HEARD.
On April 25, 1993, an estimated one million people came together on the National Mall to deliver seven demands of the U.S. government. The ban on homosexuals in the military dominated the tone of the day.
“End the Ban Now!” the crowd chanted. “End the Ban Now!” Gay Vietnam veterans received thunderous applause. Speaker after speaker repeated, “Our time has come.”
Speakers at the event included Judith Light, Melissa Etheridge, RuPaul, Martina Navratilova, Ian McKellen, Eartha Kitt, Jesse Jackson, and Martha Wash.
One person who didn’t attend the march? President Bill Clinton, whose absence infuriated protestors, who could be heard chanting “Where’s Bill?”
“Make no mistake, America,” an event leader told the media. “We won’t compromise our freedom. We won’t go back. We will win.”
Thanks to those who marched on that hot April day, our community moved closer and closer to equality.
Moments of Pride 1993: Claire Leonard
“1993 was the first year I volunteered at Pridefest with my dad.
I was 14 years old at the time and finally old enough to truly realize what a strong man my openly gay father was. I will always have a huge amount of pride for my father.
I may be straight, but I grew up in the LGBT community and feel blessed to be a part of it.”
PrideFest 1994 is held in Veterans Park
June 11, 1994
After smashing attendance records in 1993, Milwaukee’s pride celebration moved to its first lakefront festival location: Veterans Park, just north of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The theme was “Our Time to Shine” and commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
With greater visibility and more space, the two-day festival was able to offer more than it ever offered before. In many ways, PrideFest began to resemble the event it is today. The festival offered its first dance tent, history tent and marketplace areas, as well as three entertainment stages, a classic car show and a volleyball invitational. The Sunday afternoon parade, which wound throughout downtown on an extended route, was a major draw.
Brondino and Iverson, a local law firm, donated $1,000 to establish the festival’s first history tent. If it wasn’t for this generous gift, we might not be able to celebrate our Moments of Pride or build our Facebook Timeline today!
PrideFest 1994 was a groundbreaking year for another reason. In late 1993, the Milwaukee Lesbian / Gay Pride Committee, which had been the founder and parent organization of Milwaukee’s pride celebrations, decided to dissolve, reorganize and transfer festival oversight to a new group, PrideFest, Inc.
Under new leadership, PrideFest, Inc. would soar to new heights and achieve its greatest accomplishments in Milwaukee pride history.
Read the entire 1994 Pride Guide online!
Stonewall25 march brings over one million to New York City
Estimates put the attendance at 1.1 million people.
Marchers were energized by the spirit of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, and the progress that the LGBT community had made since that first, historic uprising.
Moments of Pride 1994: Jason Gehrke
“1994 is the year that I graduated from high school.
Living in a small town like mine, it was never easy being the true me. Knowing that I was about to graduate gave me hope knowing that I was leaving the small-minded mentalities that surrounded me and the open and free thinking if college life would make things easier.
Being who I always knew I was had been hidden for so long. The summer of ’94 was the beginning of my liberation, freeing the inner me that should have been able to shine the entire time. Small town thinking and ignorance kept the true me in hiding and the fake me in the spotlight.
Since then, the fake me has faded away and the true me shines brighter than the sun thanks to open thinking, great friends, and the LGBT community EVERYWHERE.”
Moments of Pride 1994: Ellen Vanscoy
“I was in my late 20s and had moved to Madison just the fall before.
We went to Milwaukee for Pride in the summer of 1994. It was the first Pridefest I had ever been to, and certainly the first time I had ever joined the crowd and marched in the street during the parade.
I moved back to St. Louis a few weeks later and carried those memories with me.
Skip to 10 years later and I began to volunteer for Pride St. Louis, helping with parade decorations, crowd control, etc. That feeling I experienced in Milwaukee in 1994 has carried forth.
I now sit on the Board of Directors of Pride St. Louis and 2012 was my sixth year as the Parade Director.
Right before the parade starts, I look back at all of the parade entries filling the street and I yell, “ARE you READY?!?” When they all erupt with cheers, I am once again filled with that incredible feeling that I first experienced in Milwaukee way back in 1994 — the feeling that I am who I am and that’s OK!
My hope is that those feelings will radiate out as the parade passes by and that everyone there will have the opportunity to share those same feelings.
Thank you Milwaukee Pride for the experience of a lifetime.”
PrideFest 1995 is held in Veterans Park
June 10, 1995
PrideFest Milwaukee welcomed over 9,000 people to “Live the Dream” in Veterans Park for a two-day festival that featured over 300 LGBT performers on four stages, a Venetian-themed lighted boat parade, a Fine Arts festival, evening hours for the Marketplace, Wisconsin’s largest wedding cake for the gay / lesbian commitment ceremony, multiple new food vendors, and the first-ever fireworks show at ANY LGBT pride event in the United States!
The “Light up the Skies with Pride” fireworks show, sponsored by the Miller Brewing Company, included over 700 explosions produced by the Bartolotta company.
The presentation was specially designed for PrideFest to showcase the colors of the rainbow flag. It was a perfect tribute to the ever-growing festival, who would soon receive approval to move to the Summerfest grounds!
“We want Milwaukee to know that not only are we not hiding anymore, we are making LOTS OF NOISE!” said the PrideFest president to the opening day crowds. “On June 10 and 11, you are free. Free to dance with whoever you want, free to hold hands with whoever you choose. FREE to be yourself.”
The opening ceremonies closed with this important thought: “With all that is happening in Washington and in state capitals around the country, it would be easy to lose sight of our ultimate goal, the day when all of us can live our lives freely and openly.”
Almost 20 years later, we are still committed to achieving this goal for our community.
The festival also marked another first: the History Tent offered the first-ever educational CD-ROM on LGBT history. In 1995, this was considered a historic breakthrough!
Over 100 people donated their own money to join the PROUD CROWD 1995. With their assistance, PrideFest was able to not only produce a remarkable 1995 festival, but secure the 1996 move to Henry W. Maier Festival Park. We are grateful to these individuals for their generosity — without them, we might still be a picnic in the park!
Read the entire 1995 Pride Guide online.
PrideFest moves to Henry W. Maier Festival Park
June 7, 1996
For many of today’s festival-goers, PrideFest has ALWAYS been on the Summerfest grounds, otherwise known as Henry W. Maier Festival Park. They don’t remember what a BIG DEAL it was for the festival to finally “arrive” — and join 14 other MIlwaukee festivals sharing a permanent lakefront home.
In June 1996, PrideFest moved into the big leagues. No more picnics in the park. No more temporary stages. No more Portolets. No more moving locations from year to year. Finally, the festival was received, recognized and accepted as part of Milwaukee’s official summer festival offerings.
The festival’s theme, “Carry the Torch,” was both symbolic and literal. We were at the finish line of a long run to our new home, where the pride torch would burn bright for the next two decades. As a measure of pride, this was a SWEET victory — and almost 10,000 people showed up to claim it!
In fact, the 1996 Proud Crowd was gigantic — with over 300 individuals, couples and organizations donating money to bring PrideFest 1996 together.
Sadly, many of our top sponsors that year are no longer part of Milwaukee’s landscape — such as Mama Roux, Gargoyles and Boot Camp. We deeply miss these institutions — and are grateful to their owners for supporting us in that very, very critical year.
Performers that year included Jerry Grillo, Ronnie Nyles, The Yell Leaders, The Wedding, Dykeappella, Dianna Jones and the Reign, and the BJ Daniels Revue.
Although Bette Midler was the honorary chair of the 1996 WIsconsin AIDS Walk — she did not appear at the festival. “Headliners” were still a few years away.
“We welcome you to pass through our gates and under our streaming rainbow flags, which represent everything our festival is about — people joining together as one,” said the welcome letter.
The festival featured an Afterwords PrideFest Literature Tent, an encore Bartolotta fireworks show, a volleyball tournament, a classic car show, a Venetian boat parade, and a marketplace. The Sunday pride parade was extremely well attended. The dance tent, co-sponsored by LaCage and Madison’s Hotel Washington complex (Rod’s and New Bar), offered music from noon until closing — but promised “no country!”
Most food booths were still staffed by volunteers, including the Pride Grill, Walkers Point Cafe, and a Pizza Bar. New to the festival in 1996 were wine coolers and a coffee bar. Previously, only Miller beer was served!
Read the 1996 Pride Guide online.
PrideFest arrives on the World Wide Web
It’s hard to believe that there was a time that having a website was something special. In a smartphone world, it’s even harder to believe that getting online was difficult, expensive, and confusing. But in 1996, that was the way of the world!
WIth our very first website and our first email address, PrideFest was on the cutting edge in 1996. Our “Exec PC” hosted site contained only special event information, stage schedules, and printable forms.
If you didn’t have access to the internet, you could still access this information on the “Back Door Bulletin Board System” by calling a local phone number and pressing the star key. The BBS also offered 250+ message boards, an online dating area, online chat, and games.
Moments of Pride 1996: Haley Heaviland
“In 1996, I was 19 and I went to my first Pridefest and saw my first Pride Parade. It was small but still awesome. I went with my mom, my dad and my sister.
The previous October, I had flown home to Milwaukee from college to come out to my parents. They didn’t take it so well. My mom didn’t really speak to me until I came home again for the holidays. When I got there, I found that she had taken down every single picture of me in the house. It was a rough Christmas.
If you had told me that 6 months later, I’d be at Pridefest with my mom, I’d have never believed you. But there she was, yelling and cheering on the people in the parade.
I don’t know if she would have said she was proud of me at that point or not, but I was certainly proud of her.”
PrideFest 1997 celebrates 10 years of Milwaukee pride
June 6, 1997
First, it was a one-day march and rally. Soon, it was a two-day afternoon festival. Then, we added nighttime hours.
Finally, in 1997, PrideFest grew to a three-day weekend festival, hosting entertainment on four stages, a 90×120 canvas dance tent with a 600-person capacity, a Miller Lite Volleyball Invitational, an expanded history tent, and over 100 vendors! The fireworks show even promised “perfect” pink triangles exploding over Lake Michigan.
Comedienne Lea DeLaria and ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again joined local favorites Mrs. Fun, Les Lokey, Mia Montenegro and the BJ Daniels Revue (featuring Lily White) for a powerful weekend.
If you can believe it, Lea DeLaria was also the Grand Marshall of the 1997 Pride Parade!
In 1997, one of the festival’s esteemed guests was Jaime Nabozny, a high school student who won a federal lawsuit against the Ashland School District for not protecting him against anti-gay bullying.
“Just as if a small stone was thrown into Lake Superior, the ripple effect of the ruling has been slowly spreading across Wisconsin, the Midwest, and the entire United States,” read the 1997 Pride Guide.
School systems learned that they have a legal obligation to ensure that all students have a safe learning environment, and that there was no excuse for allowing violence to continue. Jaime was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by PrideFest for his leadership, commitment and unwavering courage.
Outpost Natural Foods sponsored a Rainbow Cafe, marking one of the first local vendors to serve food at PrideFest. The cafe was celebrated for offering vegetarian and organic options — something not easily found at Milwaukee’s summer festivals at the time.
PrideFest also offered a brand new website: www.pridefest97.com, developed and managed by local gay-owned business TKNET. It was the first time festival photos were posted on the internet on a daily basis.
“For too long, our history has been written or eliminated by those who would rather see us back in the closet,” said PrideFest president Scott Gunkel. “By making sure our history is told and seen by the largest number of people, society cannot deny the valuable contributions and significant gains made by members of our community.”
After a decade in business, PrideFest took a moment to thank the companies who made it possible. Within the first ten years of PrideFest, the Cream City Foundation had already donated over $37,000 to the festival. Other noted sponsors were Miller Brewing Company, ARCW, Milwaukee AIDS Project and the Wisconsin Community Fund.
Moments of Pride 1997: Jamie Beauchamp
“1997 was the year that I came out. I moved from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Aug of 1996 and came out in Feb 1997.
PrideFest was one of the first places I had went when I first came out. It was one of the best experience to go to when one is young and gay. it was a very overwhelming experience to be in a place where I could be 100% myself and never had to worry about judged.
I went all 3 days to PrideFest that year. I have gone every year since that date. For some people young & old, it is the only 3 days where he/she can be whoever they want to be.”
PrideFest 1998 moves to August
August 28, 1998
Do you remember when PrideFest moved to August? In 1998, the festival was rescheduled for the last weekend in August, due to the 95th Harley-Davidson Anniversary Celebration happening in June.
With a theme of “many worlds, one community,” headliner Joi Cardwell, and gorgeous August weather, PrideFest 1998 attracted record-breaking crowds of 14,478 people!
Milwaukee’s Human Rights League for Gays and Lesbians awarded PrideFest with a Cream City Brick Award that year, recognizing it as the largest LGBT gathering in the state of Wisconsin.
Sponsors included American Airlines, the first carrier in the US to provide same-sex domestic partner travel and health benefits, non-discrimination employment guidelines, employee affinity group (GLEAM) and LGBT marketing group (Rainbow TeAAm.) Damron Guides, The Chanticleer Guest House, Q*Voice, InStep, Glinn Publishing, and the Cream City Foundation were also chief contributors.
The Challenge Party also supported the festival for the first time.
In 1998, the parade moved from noon to 2 p.m. for the first time, to allow more preparation time for both participants and the audience.
The welcome letter read, “Often, people say that they wish PrideFest could last all year. They are referring not to the decorations, banners, music and crowds that make up a festival. They are referring to the feelings that come when one is allowed to be exactly who they are within a supportive, embracing and affirming gathering of people.”
“True, the festival is just three days, but pride can be all year round.”
Read the 1998 Pride Guide online!
Moments of Pride 1998: Monique Nelson
“In 1998, I was a freshman in high school, and this was my first pride event.
I was so full of emotions excited, nervous, and a bit overwhelmed. I never felt so welcomed and so proud to be part of a community! I have attended all 3 days of PrideFest every year since then.
Thank you Pridefest Milwaukee for letting be who I am!”
Moments of Pride 1998: Katie Andaloro
“Who was I in 1998?
I was a pretender and a fighter. I was gothic and emotional. I was a lost soul in search of myself. I was that way because I was afraid of my real self – a beautiful, loving, creative lesbian.
As time continued and I entered high school, I became more comfortable with me. Who I was then is nowhere near who I am now, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
PrideFest 1999 brings rainbow flags to the streets of Milwaukee
For the second year in a row, PrideFest was held over a three-day August weekend in 1999.
The theme, “Courage to Build Bridges,” played out in two major achievements that year: first of all, the City of Milwaukee allowed pride flags to be hung in the streets, and second of all, the Milwaukee Police Band actually performed in the Pride Parade!
For the first time, over 30 pride flags waved proudly down Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street that year. The flags, which cost $144 each, were funded entirely by the LGBT community through their Proud Crowd donations.
PrideFest received national attention for raising LGBT visibility throughout the city, not just in the traditional “bar” neighborhoods, and inspired similar programs in other cities.
The 1999 headliner was Kathy Sledge of famous 70s band Sister Sledge, and her performance of “We are Family” was one of the most spirited and rousing numbers ever heard at PrideFest!
Also, for the first time, the Pride Parade led directly to the front gates of PrideFest!
With an attendance of 13,455, PrideFest was still considered “small” compared to the other summer festivals, but we demonstrated the power of the LGBT dollar!
Financial analysts estimated that PrideFest generated over $1.3 million to stimulate the local economy in 1998. At the time, out-of-town visitors accounted for 36% of PrideFest’s attendance, and generated nearly $600,000 (both at PrideFest and local busineses.) As attendance continued to grow, so did the civic benefits of hosting our annual festival.
Read the entire 1999 Pride Guide online.
Moments of Pride 1999: Yolanda Young
“1999 completely changed my life. It was the year I came out to my entire family during a family reunion.
I decided that there was no reason why I needed to hide it any more. To my surprise, they all accepted me and welcomed my girlfriend into the family. I’m very happy to be out!”
PrideFest 2000 parade sparks a community debate
PrideFest approached the 21st century energized with new ideas, exciting developments, and unstoppable growth! We were truly “proud from the inside and out!”
The festival returned to June in 2000, honoring Lesbian & Gay Pride Month, which had just been declared by President Bill Clinton. The event — and PrideFest has been observed in June ever since. In 2010, President Barack Obama renamed the observance “National LGBT Pride Month” to be more inclusive and supportive to the entire community.
Increasing attendance, Proud Crowd donations and corporate sponsorships created a much larger operating budget, and this allowed PrideFest 2000 to bring in not just one, but TWO national headliners! CeCe Peniston and Lisa Lisa (of Cult Jam fame) were the show-stoppers that year.
PrideFest 2000 decided to shatter the status quo by moving the parade, traditionally held on Sunday afternoon, to a new day and time. After many major cities moved their LGBT pride parades to the evening, PrideFest 2000 experimented with a Friday opening night parade.
The parade, which kicked off at 7:30 p.m., followed the same route as the 1999 parade with a Mardi Gras theme. Unfortunately, it did not attract as many participants as the usual Sunday parade, and not as many people came out on a Friday night to support it from the sidewalks.
The parade did spark an interesting debate that year, when the city of Milwaukee challenged whether we were hosting a political march — or a celebratory parade. Depending on who you spoke with in the community that year, you may have heard a different answer.
The older generation, mobilized by gay liberation and the repression of the 1970s and 1980s, felt there was still a need for a politically-motivated, activist-driven march. The emerging generation, who had grown up in a politically correct era of LGBT rights and protections, felt the parade should be a festival-themed celebration.
As we approached the millennium, our community’s perception of how LGBT pride should be expressed was changing. The question of whether the Pride Parade was a march or parade raged on for months with no clear resolution.
Today, we honor the Milwaukee Pride Parade as a mixture of both political and non-political functions, knowing we can never forget the days when marches were a more emotional, aggressive and necessary means for expressing gay pride.
Read the entire 2000 Pride Guide online.
Moments of Pride 2000: Derrick Dahl
“In 2000, I was a sophomore in high school.
To me, ‘pride’ meant all the strong people who were coming out, like Rosie O’Donnell, who were role models to me in my accepting of my sexuality and coming out myself.
Twelve years later, we are still fighting for equality, and I am so proud of our community for staying strong!”
Pridefest 2001 embraces the 21st century
With a theme of “People, Pride, Power,” PrideFest 2001 launched forward with the second night parade, 43 pride flags in the streets of Milwaukee, a Friday night “Wizard of Odds” theme party at the Dance Tent, the “En Femme” drag queen photo exhibit by MIAD, and a “Hide & Seek” leather fashion show.
If you thought RuPaul invented the drag race, you’re wrong, honey! Back in 2001, PrideFest introduced the Saturday afternoon “Drag Race” which had 30 contestants compete for “best Drag!”
Racing from pit stop to pit stop, the contestants picked up wigs, make-up, dresses and shoes, and pulled together a “winning look” on the run!
Hostesses Nova Divine and Lily White selected the top two candidates — who then had to compete in a lip sync contest. All contestants were given prizes, and were photographed in their “ensemble” by our official PrideFest photographer. Five runner-ups even got free make-up consultations from Miller & Campbell!
Protestors were a serious issue back in 2001, and an entire page of the Pride Guide is devoted to advice on dealing with them. “This is not a news flash. Some people just don’t like us. If you can ignore the ignorance, you will have a great time at PrideFest!” The same is true today, but fortunately, we have FAR less protestors than we did in 2001!
Our long-term sponsor, Potawatomi Bingo & Casino, brought bingo games to the festival grounds that year for the first time. They also sponsored the Dance Tent! We are grateful for their long-term support and partnership.
For the second year, the parade was held on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The goal was capturing the essence of the “first day of pride” and energizing the crowds with its magic.
In 2001, $1 of the admission ticket cost was donated to the LGBT Community Center, who were seeking a new and permanent home away from the Downtown Mini Warehouse on South 2nd Street.
The opening ceremonies started with a welcome that is as powerful and true today as it was in 2001:
“When you talk about PrideFest with the people who come, you begin to understand there is something far greater being created here. They talk about emotions, feelings, wholeness, and the sense of belonging. As theydescribe their experiences, you begin to realize that PrideFest is about creating a world where LGBT people are the major presence. PrideFest is our village and we are its citizens.”
Moments of Pride 2001: Alisa Streets
“2001 is the year I graduated high school. It was also the year I finally came out to my BFF, April.
It was a huge signifier for me and not just because it meant a transition into college or the “great unknown.” It was and will always be a symbol of pride, courage, relentlessness, survival, ambition, determination, heart, and personal strength. I’d survived the first major milestone of my own “It Gets Better Project.”
As a teenager, the persecution I faced on what seemed like a day-to-day basis by my own family and church was enough to make me crumble, had I not constantly reminded myself that I was stronger than defeat. I had long since developed a mentality and growing passion for activism – standing up for myself, others, being one of the few vocal ones about equality, and even helping create the very first underground gay/straight alliance at my school.
(I say “underground” because only one teacher had our support and even then they ended up leaving us…and you needed at least one teacher to operate as a student group on the property.)
Throughout 2001 and the years leading up to it I’d been told I was sick and sinful, been policed and monitored by my parents for signs of “gay activity,” threatened to be sent to a gay reformation camp, told I was to remain quiet about my identity to my younger brothers, stripped of all at-home privacy…at times literally forcing me in the closet (the only door I could physically close was my walk-in closet), kicked out and let back in.
And throughout 2001, I was tempted with money:, a paid for college education, a car, a job, and an apartment. At the price of my true identity. For the record, I never said yes.
I knew from the very beginning of my own Acceptance Journey that I would not be swayed, could not be bought off, could not be changed…to fit the mold of some one else. No matter how hard anyone tried to change me, break me or test me. I knew that my one true test was staying true to myself. I should share that one of my own personal mantras has always been “you have to risk disappointing another to stay true to yourself.” Even if that means standing alone.
2001 was a pivotal year for me. It showed me a clear-cut evolution of strengths, gifts/talents and qualities I possess–the most important one, character.
I went on to grow and change, evolve and experience in ways I couldn’t have imagined at that time. It played an integral role in paths I took, paving the way for becoming: a local and national activist, a strong voice, an organizer, a peer counselor, a mentor, an artist, a friend, a lover, a fighter, a warrior, a welder, a peacemaker, a creater of change, an independent, a radical, a spiritualist, a hopeful.
Most of all…..IT MADE ME, ME. Thank you, 2001. ♥ Alisa Streets”
Moments of Pride 2001: Josh Penning
“In 2001, I was 15.
I was out for almost a year, not at my discretion though. One year earlier, I confided in my best friend about my sexuality and the fellow classmate I had a crush on. My friend told the boy I had the crush on, and over time, I became “the gay kid.”
She called to see if I wanted to go PrideFest, because I needed to see the world in an accepting light. I of course said yes in tears. I coud not beleive that she wanted to do this for me.
We had stopped and picked up her friend Laura so she had someone else along.
Upon entering the gates, and seeing all the people that “were just like me,” I could do nothing but smile! We walked around seeing what Pridefest had to offer. It was whole new experience.
I come from Mukwonago, a small town at the time. Where there were no “out” people and I had nobody to turn to, PrideFest was there for me.
With the freedom I had felt going to PrideFest, my freshman year of High School, I started a GSA and made sure to make everyone in the school feels as free, accepted and cared for as I did on June 9, 2001. This is still my mission to this day, with everyone I come in contact with.
So to sum up what PrideFest 2001 meant to me: It was the start of the beginning of truly accepting myself in my skin and the person I am and allowing myself to have support to be a strong person in the world, regardless of being gay and living in an unaccepting town.
I also realized that I am truly blessed to have such an amazing person such as Stephanie in my life. Without her support and sacrifice of her day, to make me feel so accepted and loved, I would not be the person I am today!
Thank you for the BEST FIRST TIME EXPERIENCE at Milwaukee’s PrideFest.”
PrideFest 2002 breaks attendance records
June 7, 2002
In 2002, PrideFest set a new attendance record of 18,604 with beautiful weather, the Club 219 Dance Pavilion, a Sunday afternoon parade, and the theme “10% Crowd, 100% Proud!”
Moments of Pride 2002: Antonee Ollie
“2002 was the year I was struggling with who I was. I first learned of PrideFest in 2002.
Because of the love and support of PrideFest, I learned there are people out here like me. It gave me the strength to let people know ‘I LOVE WOMEN AND DONT CARE WHAT Y’ALL THINK!’
And yes, it was my first PrideFest — and I have attended every year that I’ve been in Milwaukee ever since!”
PrideFest shoots for the stars — and misses!
June 7, 2003
In 2003, PrideFest aimed higher than ever before. Marketing dollars were committed for the first time to attract visitors from Chicago, Madison and Minneapolis. The grounds expanded to include new stages and food vendors. Everything was bigger than life that year!
Headliners Pat Benatar,Thelma Houston and Pepper Mashay rocked the main stage with electrifying performances. Peter Paige (Emmett from Showtime’s QUEER AS FOLK) made a celebrity appearance, while comedienne Judy Tenuta got the crowd laughing harder than ever before.
We hosted a Drag-a-Thon, a Pride Prom for the youth area and a pancake breakfast for families, in efforts to serve all aspects of our community. Jerry Johnson shared the nation’s largest collection of LGBT movie posters, with 125 vintage prints on display.
PrideFest also debuted a new logo that we are still using over a decade later. The opening ceremonies welcome message explained it best:
“The bright dazzling stars of the new PrideFest logo exemplify the men and women of the LGBT community who have paved the way in our struggles.
The stars are the elders of the LGBT community who formed the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, who were in the Stonewall riots and founded the Gay People’s Union in Wisconsin. Our elders are the people who made it possible for PrideFest to be here today.
We welcome you to PrideFest 2003. Celebrate ‘Our Time to Shine.’ You are the stars and deserve to shine!”
PrideFest 2003 was perfectly positioned for success. However, unforseeable financial factors would soon make themselves known that almost ended our festival after its 16th season.
Did the world still need — and want — a PrideFest? Yes. And it was only due to the generosity, devotion and passion of Milwaukee’s LGBT community that PrideFest returned for another year in 2004.
A proud community brings PrideFest back
If you hear someone complaining about PrideFest, ask them: “What would you do if there wasn’t a PrideFest?”
Truly, the festival almost ended after the 2003 season, robbing us of the past decade of wonderful experiences, connections, memories, entertainment, and pride.
Here’s the true story.
PrideFest 2003 had aimed higher than ever before — and unfortunately, the festival overshot, overspent, and overextended itself too far. Despite a tremendous investment in out-of-town marketing, inclement weather actually caused an attendance DECREASE. The festival went into the red — DEEP.
With a debt of almost $150,000, the festival faced an uncertain future. It was entirely possible that PrideFest 2003 was going to be the LAST Milwaukee PrideFest ever.
Under the direction of the Cream City Foundation, an advisory group was formed to review the festival’s future. While it was clear that the festival had major financial issues, the group felt strongly that Milwaukee still needed, wanted and deserved a PrideFest. After all, the organization had delivered 16 consecutive festivals of increasing quality, diversity and magnitude. It was not an option for our LGBT community to go back into the closet after coming so far.
The group issued a series of recommendations, including a Board of Directors reorganization, that would guarantee that this financial catastrophe could never happen again. Thanks to the generosity of the community, over $60,000 was raised to rescue PrideFest for future generations.
To this day, we owe our deepest gratitude to the PrideFest Legacy Angels who brought our festival back from the dead. Their devotion to our mission, purpose, vision and values is overwhelming. We thank them for believing in PrideFest and allowing us to reach our landmark 25th anniversary in 2012!
Moments of Pride 2003: King Adkins
“2003 was the year i was reborn into who I was always meant to be.
It all started in early 2003, when i was at home reading a book called “Am I Blue.” It made me get to thinking that if all these people could come out to their family……why couldn’t I?
I started with my brother and sister. They took it preety well, but then there was my mom, and she was the one person i was afried to tell.
I always thought that she would know because I have been a tomboy my whole life. She didn’t take it well at first. She put me out the house and told me i was going to hell.
In summer 2003, I heard about PrideFest for the first time. I went and I couldnt belive how many other people there were in Milwaukee that were just like me.
So from that day forward, I had the courge to stand up to my mother. Today, she accepts me for who I am and will even be attending this years Pride!”
PrideFest 2004: smaller, shorter but stronger than ever
June 5, 2004
If you had asked someone in fall 2003 if there was going to be a PrideFest 2004…..the answer would have been a universal “NO!”
Rumors circulated that there would only be a parade that year, or that the festival would be downsized to a picnic in a city park, or that there wouldn’t be a PrideFest of any kind at all!
But thanks to the PrideFest Legacy Angels’ gift of over $60,000, the leadership of the PrideFest Task Force, the donation of thousands of hours of Production Team volunteer time, and the support of the Cream City Foundation and local sponsors, PrideFest Milwaukee experienced a rebirth that nobody ever expected.
It wasn’t until February 1, 2004 that the PrideFest Task Force secured the necessary funding to open the gates. But only 120 days later, PrideFest 2004 opened for a shorter, smaller and STRONGER festival on June 5, 2004, and knocked them dead!
The festival itself was tremendously pared down to the bare essentials, but people were still grateful and excited that any festival was happening at all.
But there were still fireworks, commitment ceremonies, a La Cage-sponsored Dance Tent, a Drag-a-Thon, a history exhibit, a marketplace, a Youth Area, and many of the same festival components people had come to know and love over time.
New features included the Gay Pop Idol contest, judged by Summerfest celebrity Bo Black, Don Hoffman and our favorite Dear Ruthie. The Miltown Kings also performed at PrideFest for the very first time!
However, there was NO Pride Parade in 2004, which disappointed many people in the community. There was simply no way, under the existing financial and operating models, that the festival could continue to exist AND host a parade at the same time.
An apology appears in the 2004 Pride Guide reading, “After deep consideration and long discussions, it is with great disappointment that we must cancel the march for PrideFest 2004. This decision was difficult, yet it was determined that all resources need to be focused on producing a successful PrideFest for 2004. Therefore, a community rally will be held on the festival grounds to kick off PrideFest.”
Attendance was not record-breaking, but considering the reduction from three days to two, it is still very impressive. Over 15,800 people came out for the weekend and partied like there was no tomorrow.
Headliners that year included Kristine W. and Amber, both wowing crowds with their high-quality production values, lighting, sound and voices! Other headliners included Pepper Mashay, Colton Ford, and C+C Music Factory.
Without the support of the community, the 2004 festival — and every year that followed — would never have happened. We applaud those who took ownership, invested, volunteered, and ultimately caused the rebirth of PrideFest Milwaukee in 2004.
Moments of Pride 2004: Nikki Arndt
She holds the key to my heart.To be loved the way I love her is the best feeling in the whole world. I’m proud of her and each and every moment we create!
I love u Jen!”
Moments of Pride 2004: Cylest Brooks
” In 2004, I was in college at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
I knew I was a lesbian, but I was very deeply in the closet. I thought that I could change if I loved Jesus enough, so I went to a school where I faced 2 years of reparative therapy and three suicide attempts.
Surprise, I’m still a lesbian. And now, nine years after I started school there, I’m dating one of my best friends — who I met on campus at ONU, by the way.
Turns out good for me in the end, huh!?!?”
PrideFest 2005 delivers RuPaul, a new parade and record attendance
June 11, 2005
After the 2004 rebound, Pridefest 2005 was perfectly positioned for a successful year. With an all-star line-up that included RuPaul, Taylor Dayne and Sophie B. Hawkins, the festival shattered attendance records not once — but twice!
The largest number of single-day admissions hit a record 12,984 on Saturday, June 11. Overall festival attendance also topped out a record-breaking 21,368!
After the parade was cancelled in 2004, we were grateful and fortunate to see it return in 2005. Although PrideFest remained unable to manage or finance the parade, OutBound magazine “took the bull by the horns!” The Milwaukee Pride Parade was founded as a separate organization that has managed the parade ever since.
The 2005 parade was only 35 minutes long, with 20-25 entries. However, it’s grown over the past decade to an enormous PrideFest weekend attraction — featuring over 50 entries, lasting over 2 hours, and drawing crowds of over 5,000 people!
After generating over $90,000 in operating income, PrideFest was BACK! In October 2005, we held a “retirement of debt” party to celebrate that we’d already repaid our outstanding debts in full — three years earlier than expected!
Bring on 2006 — and the return of the three-day festival!
Moments of Pride 2005: William Lanphear
“2005 was my first year of pride. It was also the year I came out to my family.
I was so nervous about going. To see so many people out and having a blast I knew I couldn’t be ashamed of being gay!
Seeing everyone coming together and united as one community made it all the better! I developed many friendships that night and many are still close friends. No matter what skin color, race, or sexual orientation, we are still human and deserve equality!
My grandfather passed later that year and before he passed he told me how proud of me he was, and that no matter who I ended up with, as long as I was happy he was happy. That has stuck with me to this very day!
Now making this my 8th year of pride, I’m looking forward to attending as a proud young gay male! I am who I am and that’s all I can be!”
PrideFest 2006 brings back the 3-day festival
June 8, 2006
Based on the smashing success of PrideFest 2005, the festival returned to a three-day schedule in June 2006. And that was a good thing, because there were MANY headliners that year!
For the second year in a row, the Milwaukee Pride Parade was organized by OutBound magazine and the local bars.
Despite the parade founders relocating to Pennsylvania, the parade was a huge success in 2006, with 35 entries and an hour-long procession.
2006 was also the first year that pride flags flew down South 2nd Street along the parade route. This tradition continues today!
Attendance records were literally SMASHED in 2006, as over 23,000 people attended the three-day festival.
Moments of Pride 2006: Elizabeth Ramirez-Soto
“I had been out since the age of 18. However, I never was actively involved in gay community functions.
Finally, at the age of 22, I found out about PrideFest. I went on Sunday that first year. I heard about the commitment ceremonies, so I attended and enjoyed the experience.
I love the fact that Pride gives our community the opportunity to commit with their loved one, in front of others, and show that all love is equal, regardless of who you are! Those ceremonies open many doors to our future LGBT families.
Thank you PrideFest Milwaukee for all the years of keeping our pride alive!”
PrideFest 2007 stuns the world with show-stopping talent
It could be argued that the 2007 PrideFest line-up was one of the best in its history — and possibly even better than any other Milwaukee summer festival that year, including Summerfest.
Over 28,000 people attended that year — again, setting a new attendance record.
2007 was also the first year that the annual Pride Guide was published by QUEST magazine.
Moments of Pride 2007: Brad West
“2007 was the year I fully accepted I was gay.
I was at this leadership camp at the beginning of my senior year of college and had quickly made some new friends.
We were all just hanging out and our friend Jon was on the phone with someone, jokingly trying to “talk like a straight guy.” He then posed the question to the group, “Is anyone here even straight?” And I didn’t answer.
My stomach dropped for a moment, but it was the most liberating feeling on the planet! I came out by NOT telling someone!
The next morning, it really hit me what had happened. A group of strangers accepted the me I truly was! Later, I found out I crushed a few of the girls’ hearts!”
Moments of Pride 2007: Pavi Gonzales
“2007 was one of the most memorable years of my life!
I was only 23 and bought a house in April 2007. I was surrounded by my awesome friends and family and was enjoying life to the fullest!
I enjoyed Pride weekend, the following weekend was our housewarming party, and a month after, that I celebrated my 24th birthday!
The night of my birthday, I was told by a close friend I would receive a birthday kiss. Now this friend was a straight female, so i took it as a joke. Two weeks after my birthday on July 29, 2007, that promised kiss happened, and it forever changed our lives.
We have been together ever since and we were married in Iowa on April 29, 2011. We just recently celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary and we will be celebrating our 5 years of being together this coming summer.
2007 was a life changing year for me and will always hold a special place in my heart ♥”
Moments of Pride 2007: Georgia Henry
“Ahhh, PrideFest 2007!
That was the year that we, PFLAG Milwaukee, decided we were tired of our LGBT loved ones (that means all of YOU) having to pass the protesters on their way into and out of PrideFest.
So, we had some signs professionally made to let people know that we stand against intolerance and stand for diversity. This will be our 5th year as the unofficial PrideFest welcoming committee!
When you come this year, please stop and say “Hi” to us welcoming you outside the gates and also stop at our booth in the Health & Wellness area — our booth is near the dance pavilion side entrance.
We would love to see each and every one of you!”
Even end-of-the-world weather can’t soak PrideFest 2008
June 6, 2008
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And from a weather perspective, PrideFest 2008 was the absolute “worst case scenario!”
Tornado warnings were issued for all three days of PrideFest 2008. Bizarre, apocalyptic, end-of-the-world weather rolled in on Saturday, June 7, including a massive downpour that set new 48-hour rainfall records throughout the state of Wisconsin.
But, as they say in show business, THE SHOW MUST GO ON. And it did! All major headliners, including Wanda Sykes, Natasha Bedingfield, and the Indigo Girls, went onstage on their scheduled days, even though the crowds were slightly diminished due to the frightening weather. The Dance Pavilion, however, was packed solid throughout the entire weekend, with people dancing the rain away for hours under stormy skies.
Fireworks were rescheduled to Sunday night, yet the rain continued to pour down.
We responded to the “lost weekend” with this press release from our president:
“I want to assure you that neither weather nor protesters can or will stop PrideFest and its merry people from celebrating life, love and the history of the LGBT community. Our crowds were smalelr than in previous years, but they were a celebratory, hearty bunch. Few people left during Saturday and Sunday’s storms; instead, they stayed together and enjoyed what they could and created an atmosphere of community towards each other by sharing a common experience.”
Thanks to responsible fiscal choices, the weather impact on PrideFest’s bottom line was minimal. Lessons learned in 2003 guaranteed that one bad year would never again ruin the entire festival.
Moments of Pride 2008: Jennifer Droppers
“2008 was an amazing year for me.
My ex and I had a son together. She was at pride that year, 8 months pregnant, and ridiculously uncomfortable.
One month later, a little man came into the world. He’s almost 4 now and is the most understanding and accepting person I know due to the upbringing he’s had in a gay family.
The love and acceptance he has in his heart is what pride is all about!”
Moments of Pride 2008: Samantha Marie
“2008 was my freshman year in high school. I’ve always enjoyed adventure and putting things together in other people’s lives. Now, I was just beginning to piece together my life.
I would slowly come out to my close friends in the next couple years. Some of my friends questioned my sexual orientation as early as 6th grade.
I didn’t really understand what was “wrong” with me, so i read up on everything, trying to find myself.
I asked myself why all my friends had boy crushes and boyfriends and I had to will myself hard to have them. I like(d) girls more.
I found my first support with a group of ladies online that helped me out my personal darkness. I can remember my mother talking on the phone with her transgender friend. He was asking if her kids were straight. I, laying on the floor, loudly said NO. It was the most awkward come out, but it was one of the most freeing things I’ve done. And it was worth it tenfold!
Nobody should live in fear and darkness. No one.
I am excited and proud to go to my first Pride this year!”
Moments of Pride 2008: Tasheda Crawford
“2008 was MY year. I found myself this year.
In June of 2008, my best friend took me to PrideFest as a dare. Before this, I NEVER thought of being with a female.
I walked into PrideFest and felt relieved I felt at home. I seen so many different type of people I knew this is what I wanted.
I went in straight and left wit the person who would soon become my girlfriend. I ♥ pridefest and I have attended every year since.”
Moments of Pride 2008: Emilee McGinn
“2008 was the year I graduated high school.
My sister, who is not only my role model and hero, but my safety net as a bisexual and her a lesbian, was in Washington for fire training to prepare for Afghanistan.
The week before PrideFest Milwaukee 2008, I went to Pride in Washington and fell in love with everything there. The people, the openly gay store fronts and the couples who were unafraid to show there love. That pride taught me respect and courage, not to be afraid of myself or my feelings.
It means the world to me that pride continues to touch LGBT people everywhere and shows the youth that there is support.”
PrideFest 2009 delivers fabulous female superstars
June 12, 2009
After the catastrophic weather of 2008, PrideFest 2009 was fortunate to have a beautiful weekend, filled with beautiful people!
There were a record-breaking 120 artists on six stages that year — one of the biggest entertainment line-ups in our history.
Huge crowds, possibly feeling cheated by the previous year’s weather, turned out to support the festival. Over 29,800 people came over the three-day weekend.
“PrideFest 2009 has clearly exceeded all of our expectations,” said PrideFest President Scott Gunkel. “Gorgeous weather, great performers, engaging activities and a group of wonderful patrons enjoying every minute of it. This could not have been a better festival this year.”
Moments of Pride 2009: Sue Czekala
“Ah Pridefest 2009!
I captured the fun times in a Facebook video that I created for my friends. I share it now with all of you!
Enjoy the video!”
PrideFest 2010: Kathy Griffin is tardy to the party
June 11, 2010
PrideFest 2010 was huge. How huge? It actually set our all-time attendance records to date, with 30,358 people coming through our gates over the June 11-13 weekend. It was, in a word, incredible!
Headliners that year included Patti LaBelle, Joan Rivers, and Kathy Griffin, who actually showed up 45 minutes late due to travel issues. For the first time ever, the park closing time was extended past midnight to allow Kathy to finish her show!
Patti LaBelle enchanted the crowds with a rocking performance, and her closing words inspire us still: “We’re two steps away from everything,” LaBelle said. “Loneliness. Happiness. Our last paycheck. Loving our neighbor, black, white, gay, straight…stay gay! Stay the way you are!”
Other entertainers that year included New York club superstar Amanda Lepore, Bruce Vilanch, Lena Katina from tATu, Kaci Bataglia, Snap! and DJ Ralphi Rosario. A scheduled appearance by Jeffree Star was cancelled at the last minute due to “illness,” which disappointed many fans who came out to see him.
2010 was also the first year that the PrideFest Dance Pavilion featured oversized LED video screens above the stages. This was a first for any Milwaukee lakefront festival and truly elevated the Dance Pavilion experience to a new level.
Unfortunately, weather was not perfect that year. Mysterious fog rolled in off the lakefront and lingered on the grounds all day on Saturday, creating a very spooky atmosphere and cancelling a scheduled appearance by the Blue Angels flight team.
2010 also saw the debut of the Health & Wellness area, sponsored by Diverse & Resilient and committed to reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other health issues within our community.
For the first time since the 1980s, new HIV infections were soaring that year in the African-American male population, and Diverse & Resilient took on the challenge of changing health behaviors for the better. We are honored and thankful to have these talented people on the grounds each year, influencing and educating our community to take the best possible care of themselves and their health.
Moments of Pride 2010: Jeremy Bartelt
“2010 was the first year I went to Pridefest.
The feeling there was so overwhelming with love, support and acceptance. I didn’t feel judged or scared to be put down for showing my affection to him.
I felt like I was with thousands of family members who have all gone through some of the same experiences good and bad.
At Pridefest that year, I felt PROUD to be gay….to be me!! ♥”
PrideFest 2011: the year that almost ended it all
June 10, 2011
PrideFest 2011 will forever be remembered as our “Lemony Snicket.” A series of unforeseeable challenges left PrideFest shattered, despite everyone’s best intentions to revive the energy and success of the 2010 festival season.
“It was a series of unfortunate events, and we ended up with nothing,” remembers Scott Gunkel, PrideFest president.
Spring 2011 was a long, cold and grey season that included historically low temperatures, rainfall records, and snow in May. As a result, the June weekend weather was icy cold, cloudy and grim, which affected profitability for not only PrideFest, but all summer festivals, Wisconsin Dells hotels and parks, and other tourist attractions statewide.
Minutes before announcing Melissa Etheridge as our 2011 headliner, the deal fell through, leaving a huge gap in the schedule. Additional headliners, including Mo’nique, Salt-n-Pepa and Leann Rimes, didn’t resonate with the LGBT community as well as previous acts, who were considered LGBT icons. With little support for the line-up, ticket sales were next to non-existent.
Even people who wanted to buy tickets experienced massive complications. The PrideFest website collapsed, the ticketing website provided incorrect or incomplete information to ticketholders, and online reserved seating charts didn’t match up with the real stage layouts.
For the first time ever, more people redeemed free tickets than purchased tickets to support Wisconsin’s largest and longest-running festival. And it severely damaged our financial standing.
Despite a tremendously successful 2010 that raised over $85,000, PrideFest 2011 ended deeply in the red with a $40,000 loss. “We lost basically everything we had,” said Gunkel.
Because PrideFest, as a non-profit organization, relies heavily on ticket sales in order to balance an annual budget of $1 million — the organization faced financial ruin for the second time in history.
It was a perfect storm of setbacks. As of March 15, 2012, it was unclear whether or not there could even be a Pridefest 2012.
And yet, somehow, the festival once again survived its challenges, rose above the critics and complainers, obtained the support of key donors, sponsors and vendors, and moved forward with another festival. Without the financial support of the community, we would never have reached year 25!
Moments of Pride 2011: Brittany Selear-Hassel
“I did not go to PrideFest in 2010 because I did not want to admit that i was a lesbian.
That year, I broke up with my kids father and got out of a bad relationship. Four days later, I met the person i now call my wife.
She has been my world ever since i met her (besides my kids). I do not know what I would do without her! I went to PrideFest for the first time in 2011. It was a blast and I am going again this year. I owe my life to my wife, she got me out of a bad situation, and made my life 10 times better!
My wife and I have never fought, which most people think is really weird.
Like I said, I am proud to say I am a lesbian. I love that at PrideFest you can be yourself, and not have to hide because of other people looking at you funny. But my wife told me to always be myself and dont worry about what other people say.
I listened and we are now in a happy marriage. I would not change it for the world!”