By Laura Latzko, October 2018 Issue.

In Phoenix, the nation’s fifth largest city, pride and community are celebrated in many ways. From each individual’s creative expression to the businesses and organizations they choose to support – both can be found in nearly every aspect of daily life.

Only a few times a year, though, are there opportunities for the entire community to converge and celebrate pride together – one of which is Rainbows Festival.

Each fall, as summer begins to fade, this street fair-style event offers the LGBTQ community and allies of all ages a place to gather, see a full lineup of entertainment, eat and drink, shop, become acquainted with local resources, network and – most importantly – celebrate.

Produced annually by Phoenix Pride, this year’s festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 20-21 at Heritage Square Park in downtown Phoenix.

According to Mike Fornelli, Phoenix Pride executive director, attendees can expect to see an increase in the number of exhibitors and vendors this year, due to a greater interest – and support – from LGBTQ and allied organizations.

Fornelli attributes this, in part, to the current political climate and upcoming election. This year, such organizations as the Arizona Democratic Party and the Human Rights Campaign will have booths at the festival in an effort to encourage, and register, community members to vote in the November election.

“It’s a huge opportunity to get it out there [and spread the word] that people need to get to the polls and vote for LGBT[Q] initiatives,” he added.

The community-focus, that doesn’t cost to attend, also coincides with LGBT[Q] History Month (observed nationally each October).

“I think it’s important to have a community celebration that doesn’t cost anybody anything,” he said. “I think the intimate feel of a street fair, as opposed to a huge festival, means a lot to a whole lot of people.”

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” stars Detox (Season 5) and Raja (Season 3 winner) will headline the Rainbows Festival main stage Oct. 20 and 21 respectively.

A Street Fair with Flair

In the same format as previous years, the 2018 Rainbows Festival will feature a variety of entertainers on two stages, a pet area, food vendors and exhibitors throughout the grounds.

This year the festival will feature two headliners from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Detox (Season 5) will take the main stage Oct. 20 and Raja (Season 3 winner) will perform Oct. 21.

Additionally, local bars and pageant systems will showcase their most-loved entertainers and reigning titleholders on the festival’s stages.

“Because it’s more of a community-oriented event, more so than the Pride Festival, I want to utilize as much local entertainment as we can,” Fornelli said.

Following a hiatus, the Miss and Mister Junior Phoenix Pride Pageant will return to the community stage this year. According to Phoenix Pride, the goal of the Miss and Mister Junior Phoenix Pride Pageant is to “encourage youth participation in on-stage performance and encourage more young people to take an active role in being a leader in our LGBTQ community.”

Pageant contestants compete in the categories of creative rainbow wear, on-stage question, and talent. Judges score the contestants in each category. The preliminary competitions are open to youth ages 14-20. For more information, visit

Phoenix Pride works alongside hundreds of volunteers and businesses each year to organize Rainbows Festival, the Phoenix Pride festival and parade, the Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride Pageant, the annual Pride Brunch and other LGBTQ events.

Paying It Forward

It takes countless volunteers to bring Rainbows Festival to life each year. Dedicated volunteers, including Alek Robbins and Stella Kowalczyk, take on leadership roles that require their attendance at meetings leading up to the two-day celebration.

After serving as assistant volunteer manager at last year,  Robbins will be donating as the support liaison. Kowalczyk, who started out as volunteer interpreter, has moved into the role of accessibility manager.

Robbins first became involved with Phoenix Pride shortly after moving to Phoenix from San Diego, where he attended his first Pride at age 18. For him, that experience was life-changing and he hopes to help make Rainbows Festival just as meaningful to festivalgoers.

“We are lucky here in Phoenix because we have … two amazing events where we can be free to be our authentic selves without fear,” Robbins said.

During her time as accessibility manager, Kowalczyk has worked to make both Phoenix Pride and Rainbows festivals accessible to everyone, including those who are hearing and visually-impaired.

“The people in the deaf community are a big part of the LGBT[Q] community, and as such, we need to make sure that … the festivals themselves are accessible to [all],” Kowalczyk said. “Every year, I try to make sure we get a little bit better.”

“You can be walking the grounds after Rainbows Festival .. and you can realize that people have had experiences that they are going to take with them for the rest of their lives,” Kowalczyk said. “Maybe it’s their first Pride. Maybe it’s their first opportunity to be their authentic selves. Maybe it’s their first opportunity to come out. And you haven’t seen it. You haven’t touched it, but I guarantee you have felt it in your heart … Being a part of the community, being able to bring that to the community is amazing.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities with Phoenix Pride, visit

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