(Host) When the 21st annual Gay Pride Celebration takes place this Saturday, it will happen with fewer volunteers, fewer events and less money than in past years. Organizers say the event needs more support if it’s going to continue.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) When it was first held in 1983, the Pride Vermont celebration in Burlington drew 300 people. Peggy Luhrs was one of the organizers of the first event. Luhrs says while there was a lot of enthusiasm in the gay and lesbian communities for the event, not everyone welcomed it.
(Luhrs) “We tried to get the City Council to sign on to a statement declaring it Gay Pride Day and they refused to do that the first year. There were some letters in the paper declaring what a terrible thing it was.”
(Zind) Over the years, attendance at the Pride Celebration has increased significantly, but there are now signs it’s suffering from a lack of interest and dwindling support. Brian Cina co-chairs the event:
(Cina) “Now our Pride Celebration is an institution in the community. It has an important cultural significance. What’s sad is that we need more support to keep it going.”
(Zind) Cina says it takes volunteers and money to put on the Pride Celebration – and organizers now lack both. It costs more than $20,000 to stage the Pride Celebration. Last year, over $13,000 came in grants. Grants this year total less than $5,000. Individual donations are down as well.
Cina says these same problems – the result of a bad economy – are confronting non-profits everywhere. He says it’s also possible that with the gains made through civil unions and other laws, people in Vermont aren’t as involved in the gay rights movement. Luhrs says that shift is reflected in the people who attend the Gay Pride Celebrations today, compared to the activists who attended past celebrations.
(Luhrs) “Most want to assimilate. That’s the major thing they want. Which is different than people who really want to change and challenge society, challenge sex roles. Most want to fit in and be seen like everyone else.”
(Zind) The same shortage of volunteers and money has been a growing problem for Out in the Mountains. The monthly paper describes itself as a voice for Vermont’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The paper began publishing in 1986.
An editorial in the most recent issue says the paper is losing $1,500 a month. Fundraising is flat, grants are drying up and fewer volunteers are stepping forward. Out in the Mountain’s editor, Euan Bear, emphasizes that many the paper’s problems are shared by other non-profits – they’re not unique to gay organizations. But she also attributes the paper’s difficulties to what she calls the post-civil unions calm. She says people are also becoming active outside of the movement.
(Bear) “Gay and lesbian activism has taken a different direction. It’s more mainstream. If you look at some of the campaigns in the last election, you’ll find a lot of gay people were very active in those campaigns. That’s a different role for us.”
(Zind) Bear and others say there are still important issues to be confronted in Vermont, like harassment of gay students in high schools. She says she hopes Out in the Mountains can continue, but it will take more support to make that happen.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.