In Memphis, growing optimism marks 12th Mid-South Pride
Tennessee, like most places in the Southeastern region, has its share of anti-LGBT bias. Recently, in major strategy shifts, major national LGBT rights organizations have redirected some of their energy to the “unwinnable” battles that face our community: think, for instance of HRC’s Project One America, which is pouring money and human resources into Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. In the great sea of Red States, little islands like Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis and others shine brightly, defiantly blue—or in June, rainbow!
This year the Memphis’ Mid South Pride festival will take place in downtown Memphis, at the Robert Church Park and Beale Street on Saturday, September 26, 2015. This year’s theme, Love Equals Love, exudes the organizers’ optimism about the future of LGBT people in our region. As the board said, “Over 250 Fortune 500 companies have shown their support of diversity and we see it making a difference in our Mid-South region,” and Mid South Pride is going to reflect that difference!
“The most important goal of Mid-South Pride has been our unwavering optimism for diversity and inclusion,” said a statement by Pride organizers. “Our annual, multicultural and educational event in Memphis highlights the continued need for better understanding, respect, fairness, justice and equality for all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
Mid South Pride offers a number of unique draws, but first and foremost, according to Pride President and Festival Director Vanessa Rodley, is its location. The Mid South Pride parade is centered on the world famous Beale Street. “Beale Street,” Rodley said, “is the number two visitor attraction here in Memphis, and it brings a lot of business to the area on its own. There is nothing like walking down Beale, which is a pedestrian street, with all the colors on display and all the people sending love back at you. We always hear from people on the parade route that, as they turn the corner onto Beale, seeing all the waves of people just takes their breath away.”
While Mid South Pride’s entertainment lineup won’t be announced until sometime in June, Rodley promised that in keeping with tradition, the festival will continue to feature locals. “Our festival is very local,” she said. “we do a lot of local entertainment and businesses, ours has a very homegrown feeling.” And to that homegrown feeling, add a dash of official Southern hospitality. “Almost all of our support comes not from national corporate sponsors but from local business. Everyone will be welcomed to the Beale Street venue by our local supporters, like the Beale Street Merchants Association and the City of Memphis.”
The Memphis festival also balances the carnivalesque tradition of Pride events with an atmosphere that is friendly to families and allies. The festival is free and boasts a great family area with bounces, face painting, and games, while also free HIV testing and a VIP area with a wonderful view and an open bar. “Our festival is a fun family friendly event,” Rodley said. “It attracts a huge, diverse range of people, straight and LGBTQ, and it’s a great day to get together and celebrate being proud of who we are.”
And if you simply can’t wait until September to get your Mid South Pride on, you’re in luck! The Festival is offering a couple of sponsored events in June. On June 6th, Mid South kicks off Pride month with month with a family picnic at Overton Park. Beginning at 9 a.m., the LGBT community will congregate by Rainbow Lake, and everyone is invited to bring a lunch and a blanket for a day of fun in the sun. For the adults-only crowd, on June 27 Ray Rico Freelance and the Pumping Station are hosting a “Coconut Post Office” fundraiser to support the festival.
The Mid-South Pride Festival and Parade is among LGBT and ally gatherings in the Mid-South. In just over ten years, Mid-South Pride has grown in attendance from less than 500 people to well over 8,000, which organizers claim makes it “the largest Pride festival in the state of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and the Missouri Bootheel.”
For more information about attending the Mid-South Pride Festival and Parade, or about becoming a sponsor or volunteer, visit www.midsouthpride.org for more information.
Photo via Kevin Reed Photography