Photos by Jonathan Alvira
The 32nd annual Phoenix Pride Parade and Festival brought Valley residents together over the weekend to celebrate diversity and the growth of the LGBT community through businesses, the arts and a vibrant culture.
“This festival is one of the best in the country,” said Brett Leever, a California resident. “As someone who’s seen them all, I can say this was right up there with Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
More than 150 booths lined the grassy fields at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, many run by members of the LGBT community. Companies and organizations that wanted to show their support ran some of the other booths.
One thing that set this year’s festival apart was the presence of political figures.
Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot, an openly gay councilman, had a booth dedicated to showing support for several projects throughout the city, including Q High, a school that recently opened in downtown Phoenix for gay and lesbian students.
Robert Amaya, a public works department employee and member of Simplot’s staff, said he supports the idea of an LGBT school. He said he can remember what it was like growing up and attending a school where being gay wasn’t widely accepted.
“These kids can feel safe and focus on things that matter, like their school work,” Amaya said. “That really warms my heart.”
A long-time resident of Phoenix, Amaya remembers what it was like growing up gay in the ’60s, and has witnessed a lot of change since he started volunteering with Phoenix Pride 10 years ago.
In 2011 the festival drew nearly 30,000 participants and event organizers said they expected the count was even higher this year.
This sort of attention has prompted entrepreneurs and innovators to start their own businesses catering to the gay community.
Joe Dugandzic is the founder of QTalk, the first gay talk radio station in Arizona. He said the idea came two years ago while he was attending events like the Phoenix Pride Festival.
“There were thousands of people showing up at the events, but they still didn’t have a strong voice in the media,” Dugandzic said. “Arizona needed a gay radio station.”
Babe Caylor, co-host of the Joe and Babe Show, has been with QTalk since the beginning, and said she was skeptical of the station’s success in the beginning.
“Arizona still feels like the Wild West sometimes,” Caylor said. “It’s a very macho, male-oriented society, but that’s slowly starting to change.”
Since its creation in 2010, QTalk has grown to feature 10 different radio shows, and has developed a partnership with Lytro, a camera company. Their goal is to distribute cameras to 20 different pride festivals across the country.
“We want to chronicle the stories of gay communities all around America,” Dugandzic said.
One such story is that of Sacred Heart Hospice, an assisted-care living facility that prides itself on helping Phoenix residents who might feel discriminated against in other Valley hospices.
“We’re a smaller, family-type business,” said Angela Farrar, an office manager at Sacred Heart. “We don’t see you as a patient, male or female, we see you as part of our family.”
The company provides sensitivity training for all employees, according to Brenda Becker, community liaison for Sacred Heart.
“We’re trying to break down barriers for any minority group in Arizona,” Becker said. “Health is something that should always come before prejudice.”
The festival also saw its share of musicians, dancers, painters and more as they displayed their talents in front of thousands of fans.
Sean Dahlberg came to Phoenix in 2011 to start a dance company. Since then, Dahlhouse Dance Productions has performed routinely at the Herberger Studio, and, on Oct. 13, will perform at the Orpheum Theater.
Dahlberg credits the company’s success to the general lack of modern dance companies in Arizona.
“Phoenix was in dire need of contemporary art,” Dahlberg said. “That’s when we showed up.”
Another performer that caught the crowd’s attention on Sunday was Justin Utley, a singer and songwriter who writes music about his early life in a religion that condemned his feelings towards people of the same sex.
After leaving that part of his life behind, Utley said he hasn’t looked back.
“I’d rather be what I am today, and suffer some prejudice, than pretend to be something I’m not,” Utley said.
Phoenix Pride hosts a variety of events throughout the year. The next event is the Pride Gala, a fundraiser that will be held on June 9.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: April 23, 2012
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to camera company Lytro as “Lytra” and said it was a video camera company. Lytro sells digital light field cameras.