By Megan Wadding, July 2016 Issue.

For two decades, LGBTQ community members and allies have gathered in Northern Arizona to celebrate Pride, converge with community, engage for equality and vie for visibility.

What began as a very small gathering – less than 500 in attendance that first year – has evolved into one of Arizona’s top Pride celebrations.

This year, Northern Arizona Pride Association (NAPA) presents the 20th anniversary of the Flagstaff’s annual Pride in the Pines festival June 25.

Flagstaff Pride 2015. Photo by Bill Gemmill.

As part of national LGBTQ Pride month, Phoenix’s cooler and greener neighbor to the north invites anyone looking for a weekend respite from the summer heat to join in this year’s milestone celebration.

“Flagstaff Pride is a festival that is very family friendly and pet friendly,” explained Kathryn Jim, NAPA president. “We have a lot of families that bring their children, so we try to keep it very G-rated and respectable. We have rules set in place.”

In recent years, many Pride associations have been making efforts to evolve festivals and parades into more family friendly atmospheres where parents can bring their children if they choose to do so.

Flagstaff Pride 2015. Photo by Bill Gemmill.

According to Jim, Flagstaff Pride jumped on that bandwagon roughly eight years ago by creating a new, family-centric focus for the Pride in the Pines festival, which attracts locals, visitors and a lot of straight allies – many of whom bring children – each year.

“We want that diversity and we want everyone to know that they’re welcome, [but] we don’t want children to see anything off-color,” Jim said.

Subsequently, Jim said the festival has gained even more sponsors and support since redirecting its focus.

“That’s the way Flagstaff is,” Jim said. “[This focus] really reflects what our community is … It’s all about being respectful and having it be a fun event.”

According to Jim, the expected attendance for the weekend is roughly the same each year, which Jim said event organizers and community members appreciate.

“Most people come from Phoenix, and we get a lot from Albuquerque and Las Vegas,” Jim said. “It usually doesn’t get any larger than 4,000, which we love.”

The Stars of the Show

Top to bottom: Belinda Carlisle, Crystal Waters, Brandon Skeie and Mya McKenzie. Courtesy photos.

Despite the somewhat small-town feel of Pride in the Pines, NAPA’s proud to reveal this year’s star-studded entertainment line up.

Former lead singer of the Go-Go’s and current solo singer, Belinda Carlisle, will headline the festival on the main stage. (Read Echo's interview with Belinda Carlisle here.)

According to Jim, Flagstaff Pride was very lucky to book Carlisle as she is currently very busy with new music, activism and preparing for a future move to Thailand. (See story, page 36.)

Other festival performers include dance artist Crystal Waters (“Gypsy Woman” and “100% Pure Love”) and openly gay pop artist Brandon Skeie (“So Bad”), as well as a few bands from around the region.

“I am so stoked to be performing [this year],” Skeie said. “This is the first year I have ever performed at a Pride event and I am performing all new music. [I am] beyond happy to celebrate our individuality and equality with so many amazing people.”

Waters, who’s playing several major stops on the 2016 Pride circuit, including Queens, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Baltimore, will bring her best-known dance hits to the stage.

“I’ve been wanting to come back [to Flagstaff] for so long,” Waters said. “I’m so excited, [I] can’t wait to feel [the] energy and have fun.”

The festival will be hosted by female impersonator and Miss Gay Arizona 2007 Mya McKenzie.

“Mya is the new hostess for 2016 [and] she’ll be on the main stage during the festival,” Jim said. “She is absolutely spectacular, our whole board thinks the world of her [and] she has been nothing but inspirational and professional.”

Come Early, Stay Late

For the first time ever, Pride in the Pines will feature a full weekend schedule of events, making Flagstaff the perfect destination for spending a long weekend.

“Because it’s the anniversary, and also because it’s something new, we wanted more community events this year,” Jim said.

The Pride weekend officially kicks off with a free Cosmic Bowling (for all ages) from 3 to 6 p.m. June 24 at Starlight Lanes. Later that night, official kick-off parties are being held at both Monsoon Chinese Bistro & Sushi and Collin’s Irish Pub & Grill.

The fifth annual Route 66 Classic Volleyball Tournament, hosted by Flagstaff Pride and Desert Volleyball Alliance, will begin at 10 a.m. at Thorpe Park Softball Fields (festival grounds). Festival attendees are invited to watch the grass volleyball tournament before the festival begins at noon.

From noon to 9 p.m., the Pride in the Pines festival will feature vendors, booths and entertainment.

Once the festival concludes, attendees are invited to the Official After Party, starring Mya McKenzie, China Collins, Maraya Jordan, Kira Daniels and Piper V. M’Shay, at Collins Irish Pub & Grill.

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