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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Show of Pride

PrideFest celebrates LGBT diversity

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Since it settled into its permanent home at the Summerfest grounds at Henry W. Maier Festival Park in 1996, Milwaukee's PrideFest has grown into one of the country's biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender celebrations, drawing more than 30,000 visitors last year. Despite being run entirely by volunteers, the three-day festival now claims the largest entertainment lineup of any pride event in the world, with eight stages for music, comedy, dance and theater that reflect the diversity of the LGBT community.

“Our community's tastes are all over the place, so we keep our lineup all over the place,” explains PrideFest Entertainment Director David Charpentier.

That diversity is particularly reflected in this weekend's PrideFest headliners. Actress and comedian Mo'Nique, whose career-defining performance in the film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire won her more than two-dozen trophies, including an Oscar, tops the Miller Lite Main Stage headline show Friday night. A longtime advocate for those with HIV and AIDS who used her post-Precious spotlight to frequently speak about LGBT concerns, Mo'Nique was honored with an award from the Human Rights Campaign last month for her work advancing gay rights.

The hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa headlines Saturday night. The group's 1991 hit “Let's Talk About Sex” became the anthem for the safe-sex movement, while self-empowerment songs like “None of Your Business” and “Expression” have been adopted as unofficial gay-pride anthems.

Sunday night's closing headliner marks a first for PrideFest: LeAnn Rimes will become the event's first country-music headliner. Rimes has been outspoken about gay rights in the press and through social media, and will perform with opener Chely Wright, one of the first major country artists to come out as a lesbian. In 2010, the “Single White Female” singer released a memoir about her experiences living in the closet, titled Like Me.

Meanwhile the festival's side stages continue to grow, most prominently the PUMP! Dance Pavilion, an electronic music and dance stage that has been bringing in large club-circuit DJs in recent years. This year's PUMP! headliners include Chicago's DJ Brett Locascio on Friday, Los Angeles house mainstay DJ Dave Aude on Saturday and remix king Chris Cox on Sunday.

“The stage is really a spectacle,” says Kate Sherry, PrideFest's communications director. “Since the local promotions group PUMP! took it over several years ago, it's expanded to include laser shows and video installations. When you see it at night, it's pretty packed.”

A recent addition to PrideFest is the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center Stage, which debuted last year with a mix of dance, musical and theatrical programming. This year the stage will host cabaret singing, belly dancing, a performance of The Vagina Monologues and a program called “A Pride of Dancers,” which will spotlight ethnic dance forms including flamenco and African dance.

“I think the stage contributes a certain variety of arts programming that people wouldn't normally expect at an outdoor festival,” says Paul Masterson, executive director of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. “The fact that we do The Vagina Monologues is very important to us, because it's part of an international campaign to raise awareness of violence against women and girls, and we wanted to give the general public a chance to see it.”

PrideFest has also expanded its family lineup, offering games and art projects for kids at the Youth Stage, and an assortment of children's entertainment at the Children's Amphitheater, including magicians, jugglers, educational music, fairy tales and a dancing Chihuahua.

“We make sure that our programming always includes families,” Sherry says. “This is a pride celebration, so we like to celebrate the community and how far it's come over the years, and a big part of that is celebrating families.”

PrideFest runs June 10-12. For a complete schedule, visit www.pridefest.com.