PrideFest 2016 celebrates triumph over tragedy


Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Community unites for largest LGBTQ pride celebration ever

Thousands of LGBTQ people, along with friends, families and allies, united in record-breaking numbers this weekend in Milwaukee to overcome horrific tragedy with a celebration of pride, love and peace.

Record-breaking numbers
PrideFest Milwaukee 2016 saw an official attendance of 33,438 guests over the three-day weekend, honoring the city’s 30th annual LGBTQ pride celebration. This attendance marks a 2% increase over last year’s total of 32,822, the previous record.

This year’s festival attendance was hard-won. Early Sunday morning, PrideFest organizers acknowledged the Orlando tragedy and responded with reassurances of increased festival safety and security. In addition to introducing full metal detection, expanding Milwaukee Police Department presence, adding security staff, and providing bereavement services, PrideFest Milwaukee shared a call to action:

“While thoughts and prayers are welcome, action is required,” said Michail Takach, communications director. “Today is a day to come out, to be seen, and to be heard, in honor of those whose day was stolen from them. Today is a day to remember where we started and why we started. Today is a day for solidarity.”

PrideFest volunteers, partnering with the Milwaukee Pride Parade, handed out over 300 free admission tickets along S. 2nd Street Sunday afternoon to increase access to the festival experience.

Sunday night’s turnout was exceptional, as guests celebrated with headliner acts Blondie, Ralphi Rosario, Hector Fonseca, GGOOLLDD and The Dots until midnight.

PrideFest released its first-ever Thank You video at Sunday’s close. Produced by docUWM, the video message highlights many festival favorites including Big Freedia, Lex Allen and REYNA.

Honoring our fallen
The festival paid respect to Orlando victims with a moment of silence throughout the entire PrideFest grounds on Sunday, June 12 at 4:00 p.m., followed by a short presentation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and others.

Las Vegas performer Coco Montrese, formerly of RuPaul’s Drag Race, hosted a personal tribute at the Dance Pavilion at 10:00 p.m. “It was very hard for me to come here tonight,” said Coco. “I lost many, many friends last night. Friends that I celebrated with, last weekend at Gay Days Orlando, that I’ll never see again.”

“My performance tonight is for them.”

“United, we stood stronger than the hate thrown at us,” said Scott Gunkel, president of Milwaukee Pride, Inc. “While Friday was a record high, Saturday’s attendance was actually down. And then came the gut-wrenching blow of the Orlando and Los Angeles news.”

“Once again — and not unusual for the LGBTQ community — we came together. We rallied our community and joined old friends and news. I thank everyone who came out in such huge numbers to support triumph over tragedy. Together, we outnumbered those who sought to silence and erase us. Together, we stand proud.”

Milwaukee Pride, Inc. Executive Director Eric Heinritz agreed. “Early Sunday morning, our visitors were expressing concern for their safety as well as our own. By early afternoon, our visitors were expressing nothing but gratitude for increased security measures. We, as a community, reclaimed this weekend. Nothing could sway our resilience or resolve. Nothing could stop PrideFest Milwaukee.”

Through the Fests Feed Milwaukee program, guests contributed over 1,500 pounds of food for the Hunger Task Force and AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin food pantry.

2017 festival dates, PrideFest Plus One fundraising results, and other festival outcomes will be announced in July.

Continue your support
Flags continue to fly at half-mast throughout the city and county today, in honor of the Orlando tragedy.

Milwaukee Pride, inc. proudly sponsors tonight’s Milwaukee Vigil for Orlando, alongside our many Proud Partner organizations, including Diverse & Resilient, UWM LGBT Resource Center, Cream City Foundation, FORGE, Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and more.

Guests are encouraged to meet at the south entrance to City Hall (Water & Wells) at 7:00 p.m. tonight, where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will host a short program. Wisconsin’s largest LGBTQ pride flag will hang from City Hall until Thursday, June 16. The vigil is free, all-inclusive, family-friendly and open to the public.