Hartford has many things, but LGBT Pride seems to have fallen away. Traditionally, LGBT pride parades and festivals have been held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Connecticut PRIDE lasted for thirty years and then fizzled out. Last year, the Pride event was scheduled to move to September. Nobody seems to know what happened with that.
This year, there is no evidence that there will be a Pride festival in Hartford.
That’s our loss.
Last weekend, Providence hosted the Rhode Island PrideFest and Parade.
Upon entering the vicinity of Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk, it was immediately obvious that there was a festival and that it was connected to the LGBT community. A rainbow of flags on the bridge was one clue; the droves of visitors clad in rainbow offered another.
A small part of a street was closed off to vehicular traffic so organizations and vendors could set up booths. The use of space was smart. There were many attendees, but the narrow space made it appear even more popular. In Hartford, organizations frequently select spaces that are way too large, resulting in the sense that an event is poorly attended.
Some would be quick to point out that Providence is home to several large universities, but PrideFest happened in June, when the majority of students have dispersed for the summer.
Most of the PrideFest activity in Providence centered around the information tables, not the stage set up in a green area next to the street. Over the years, Connecticut PRIDE has been criticized for emphasizing entertainment over politics. What was interesting about Rhode Island PrideFest is that people were enthusiastic and cheerful, even with the music not being center stage.
The use of space was not the only difference. Someone observing Connecticut PRIDE may have come to the conclusion that our state’s residents do not eat. Aside from an incidental food cart here or there, the afternoon-long event rarely had refreshments. At Rhode Island PrideFest, there were many food trucks and carts offering anything from grilled cheese to vegan steak and cheese to fried Oreos. Several organizations set out water bowls for dogs. Pedicabs waited at the entrance to haul visitors to other destinations. It really seemed like organizers had thought about what would be needed by those spending a few hours in the city on a sunny afternoon.
Those not in the LGBT community might wonder why any of this matters.
If done up right, these kind of events have ripple effects. Streets away, it was no secret that the Providence festival boosted business. One woman, illegally parked, commented matter-of-factly that PrideFest made parking tighter than usual. This was not complaining, just observing cause-and-effect.
This bump was not just around the nightclubs, either. In that area, another street was partially closed for a Pride-related block party.
It’s not that Hartford lacks the space for this kind of arrangement. The immediate alternative to Bushnell Park or Main Street — both locations used in the recent past — that comes to mind is Pratt Street, which was closed to traffic for the HodgePodge last year. This is in walking distance to a number of restaurants which are open on the weekend. Another space that seems like a good fit is the courtyard at Billings Forge. Both spaces can accommodate small stages, booths, and a moderate crowd.
There is a push to make Hartford a more “gay friendly” city. We have multiple LGBT Happy Hours, nightclubs, and organizations. Hartford has a film festival and a Gay Men’s Chorus. We have an openly gay mayor. But do we have Pride?
The Suggestion Box explores things done well elsewhere that could realistically be adapted and adopted in Hartford.