By DIEGO CAGARA
ALBANY — Planning and coordinating the highly-anticipated Capital Pride Parade and Festival that will happen Sunday, June 11 at Albany’s Washington Park takes a lot of time and energy, according to Martha Harvey, the CEO and executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region. However, she felt that it was all worth it as it is meant to perpetuate positivity and celebrate the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
“It really is about changing the hearts and minds of people because not only do we want the LGBTQ community to feel safe and accepted, we also want to be more inclusive and encourage allies to come and support what we do,” said Harvey who attained her position title back in January.
Hosted by FLY 92.3 DJ Shawn Gillie, the Capital Parade and Festival will feature performances by Australian singer Betty Who, British R&B and soul singer Maxine Nightingale, local act Grand Central Station and Pride Drag Revue. Besides live entertainment, vendors will cater to the public who can attend both events for free while floats, merchandise and shops permeate the general area. Elected officials, local businesses and community organizations that support the events will appear too.
Having previously worked as the executive director and co-founder of the Hudson Pride Foundation which is a pro-LGBTQ non-profit organization until 2016, Harvey noted that the events she helped coordinate there were much smaller whereas those for the Capital Pride Center required more time and energy to plan out.
She also said that such major celebratory events like the Capital Pride Parade and Festival would not have been possible without the many sponsors, volunteers and even the Albany Police Department. She specifically thanked fellow colleague, Corporate Fundraiser and Entertainment Chair of Capital Pride Steering Committee Scott Levine, who also manages Albany’s leading gay bar, Waterworks Pub.
“We needed many volunteers, corporate sponsors, friends from the local community and donors who donated money and time to us to make all this happen,” Levine said. “And we have our small group of staff here at the center to thank too.”
He remembered how back in 2005, he attended the Capital Pride Festival then and was displeased with how seemingly small the turnout was as well as how only a few local bands played there. Due to his interest in bringing in more entertainment, he hit up his business contacts to get more people involved, particularly noting Barefoot Wine for becoming the longest corporate sponsor since then.
This year’s Capital Pride events have amassed over 40 sponsors, including Hannaford, Bank of America and the Times Union.
Addressing concerns from locals who practice sobriety or struggle with alcohol abuse that the events have numerous alcohol-related sponsors like Barefoot Wine, Jack Daniel’s, Blue Moon and Miller Lite, Harvey clarified that the Capital Pride Center encourages responsible drinking and that it has to be run like a business.
“It sounds like all we care about is the money but…I personally come from the corporate world and so, I bring a lot of that corporative business sense to this job because that’s what we have to do,” said Harvey. “The only way to keep the doors open, the lights on, provide the necessary programs, the support, the advocacy, the resources…the only way to do all the good work for the community is if we have funding.”
Security was another concern that Harvey touched upon who visibly became downcast when remembering that this will be the first Capital Pride and Festival since the Orlando gay club shooting on June 12, 2016, when 49 civilians were killed in a hate crime orchestrated by ISIS follower Omar Mateen. The tragedy eerily occurred exactly one day after last year’s Capital Pride and Festival.
“It’s crazy that it takes things like [the Orlando shooting] to happen to bring people together,” said Harvey. “Now, we’re hearing from people who call into the center who feel scared to go outside, to be who they truly are, to ride the bus [and] to lose healthcare. The fear of uncertainty and not feeling safe is palpable.”
Levine, also disturbed by the events, said that gay bars are supposed to be a place where LGBTQ people can feel safe and be themselves, especially back in the 1950s and 1960s when homophobia was much more pronounced in American society.
“Right after the shooting last year, we got everyone together with the Albany Police Department, the State Department and the FBI to basically discuss what’s going on in the Albany area and they were reassuring us that there is no credible threat,” said Levine. “Violence is still always happening but in general, it is mostly a safe community around here and we strive to keep it that way at the Pride Center and Waterworks.”
“You’re never going to stop violence, it’s part of our human nature since the beginning of time and it will never stop,” Harvey added. “But that does not mean you sit back and take it. You resist and persist.”
Concerning the planned Capital Pride events, Harvey also encourages the general public to look out for one another and follow in the “see something, say something” mindset.
The parade and festival are among the plethora of scheduled events that are planned by the Capital Pride Center for the month of June, which had been designated as Pride Month to commemorate the landmark Stonewall riots back on June 28, 1969. These riots were seen as the singular event that birthed the modern gay liberation movement and the struggle for LGBTQ Americans to attain equality.
While the flag raising ceremony on June 1 at Albany City Hall marked the beginning of the month’s festivities, the month-long celebration would last until June 24 with the Vintage Pride Sunset Cruise on the Hudson River. Since launching in 1970, the Pride Center has been the longest continuous of its kind in the country and will reach its 50th anniversary in 2020, which Harvey and Levine have said that preliminary plans and discussions are in motion already.