by Kimberly, theBword Poet
As I was chatting with a fellow volunteer at this year’s Pride In The CLE’s Pride Ride, I started to tell her about how different Pride In The CLE was from Cleveland Pride, explaining how many routes this city’s Pride has gone through.
I then realized that this June marks twenty years that I have been going to Cleveland Pride Celebrations! I can’t believe the years have flown by like this.
My very first Pride was in June of 2000, the year after I came out. I heard about Pride from PFLAG-Cleveland; who meets at Trinity Cathedral on E.21st and Euclid. Back then, the Cleveland Pride Lineup started at E. 18th Street. PFLAG had breakfast for the marchers at the coffeehouse downstairs, then we’d walk across the street and take our lineup positions.
The parade marched through Playhouse Square; turned right at Public Square to Superior Avenue; then turned left at E. 9th and Superior to go down to Voinovich Park. The night before, there was a pink strip put on the ground of the route to help people stay on the route. Yeah, that route was LONG!
I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw protestors. They would stand on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument as we passed Public Square. I saw a little boy holding a sign that said, “Friends don’t let friends be gay!” He had a stern look on his face; like he knew what the sign said. The grownups all around him were yelling obscenities at us. I became genuinely afraid and started to second guess if I should be out – especially out at a Pride parade. However those marching with me had been through hecklers before and yelled right back at them. I only hoped that one day I’d be that brave.
Eventually the route was shortened to taking off from in between W. Superior and St. Claire on W.3rd Street. That change made it SO much easier for me to get to the parade; since all the buses ended their routes at E. 3rd Street. But now that the parade started in the heart of Public Square, the marchers were easier targets for hecklers. Before, protestors just went home after we passed Public Square. Now they lined up right alongside the supportive spectators, starting from City Hall down to E. 9th and Lakeside.
When my work schedule allowed, I was a part of Cleveland Pride Incorporated Planning Meetings before they moved to The Center when it was at 6600 Detroit. It was held in the President’s (Todd Saporito) condo off West Blvd and Clifton Blvd on a certain Wednesday of the month. I remember Todd always making a big deal about everyone having a seat at the table when planning Pride. In fact, I believe that’s what drew me to go to meetings in the first place. It was a good pitch. He never implemented any suggestions I had, but I was flattered that he made me feel like I had a seat at the planning table.
My frustration with him not taking my suggestions got the better of me though, along with work and life changes that prevented me from going to meetings. However I still supported the event. I felt it was too important for me not to support it.
I was heartbroken in 2016 when Todd left town and canceled Pride – two weeks before it was set to begin. In stepped the third route change when the LGBT Center swooped in and took it over; rebranding it Pride In The CLE. The Parade now had to be a March; stepping off from W. Lakeside (or from E.9th and Lakeside) to Public Square where the festival was changed to from Voinovich Park.
I feel very blessed to have been a part of Cleveland Pride events from almost the time I came out. I jumped into marching in the parades without a second thought; I never considered just being a spectator. I believe I did that because of some wise words I heard before my first parade.
There was another first timer that was afraid someone they knew would see them at Pride. And the reply was, “Well they’re at Pride to see you too, right? How can they judge you when they are there as well?” That made SO much sense to me! Now anytime I fear a coworker or my boss or my family will come downtown and see me marching in the Gay Pride Parade, I just remember that reply.
My Pride is here to stay and be on display.
Happy Pride, Ohio!
Kimberly is a Bi and Asexual Poet, Short Story Writer, and Journalist from Cleveland, Ohio. Pronouns are she/her. You can find her online at http://bwordpoet.wordpress.com