The Business of Pride
AGLCC's prez ponders the pitfalls of a complacent gay place
Whoa, nellie! The reins of Pride have changed hands. In years past, LGBT lobby Equality Texas has hosted the Pride Festival, while the Pride Parade has been hosted by the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. This year, AGLCC is running the whole show.
Back in 2002, the first year of Austin's Pride Parade rocked with controversy. A parade rep was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman as saying, "When people think of gay parades, they think of all the freaks and things you see in the media and on TV, but ... we want to portray a positive image and represent this community as a whole." The quote set in motion a group of activists who marched in the parade behind the banner "Freaks and Things You See on TV."
Current AGLCC President Jimmy Flannigan, who has been involved with the Chamber since 2000 and president since 2007, weighs in on these formative growing pains of the past, what's new for this year, and the outlook for Austin Pride's future.
Austin Chronicle: What are some of Austin's challenges in creating gay community?
Jimmy Flannigan: Austin is so tolerant, especially compared to what it's like 50 to 100 miles from here, but we do have this complacency issue. I used to think it was apathy, but it's not. People care; they just don't act. Believe it or not, I spend a lot more time convincing gay people that what we do is important. The straight people get it.
Many gay business owners, for example, associate AGLCC with charity. Many feel: "Hey, I give to HRC. I give to Out Youth. AGLCC just seems to be about money." When really what we're about is reinvestment in the community. It's similar to the city offering economic incentives to bring employers to town. Ironically, straight business owners get it, because they see the potential of connecting and working with our community.
AC: How much of this do you think might simply be an "outing" issue?
JF: So many problems in the gay community can be traced back to internalized homophobia. I think community leaders have a responsibility to represent everyone along every step of the path: from people who are closeted to drag queens out performing in the clubs. Some people, who are out to all of their friends and family, might be petrified to come out at work. I have many friends who won't even friend me on Facebook because they're afraid that their boss, who is also on Facebook, will make the AGLCC connection and figure it out.
AC: Does AGLCC address this? How?
JF: The Chamber's mission is to reach out to the gay community, not change it. It includes the phrase "community development." We rewrote it intentionally to include that. Part of our mission is also to make sure there are jobs for people and making sure gay businesses are profitable so there are equal opportunities.
Pride is a natural fit. It's a way to create that sense of community that we don't feel every day. Let's bring everybody together at one place at one time so we see we're all here.
AC: Some in the community, and I count myself as one, have expressed concern and skepticism at a business group being responsible for the entirety of Pride. How do you answer those concerns?
JF: When AGLCC launched the parade in 2002, there was some controversy about what was going to be allowed and not allowed in the parade, and people got upset about it – rightfully so. There were protesters, and the protesters actually marched in the parade. It was part of a discourse. In year two, when we were determining policies, we took that input into account. I think there's a misconception that behaviors and statements that had been made by some AGLCC volunteers in the past are shaping how we are acting now and in the future. [Since the controversy surrounding the initial parade in 2002], we have not rejected an entry or turned anyone down or said they are not welcome. No one has ever been turned away from participation.
There cannot be no rules, but we don't want too many rules. At some point you draw a line, and that's always where the discussion lies. It's not intended to whitewash anything. It is merely a way for us to put together an event so that when different groups from all areas of the so-called normalcy spectrum want to participate, they can feel comfortable doing so.
AC: How has taking on the festival in addition to the parade changed AGLCC's overall outlook and long-term planning for Austin Pride?
JF: Ultimately, this year is about bootstrapping. We [AGLCC] have never done a festival before, plus we don't have last year's profits to pay for this year's festival.
The logistical changes of this year are obvious: The later time (4 to 8pm, instead of noon to 7pm) will alleviate a lot of the concerns of heat. The festival ends right as the parade begins and is literally on the parade route, so people don't have to leave or travel anywhere to watch. Then an afterparty begins immediately after the parade on the same grounds.
Last year the festival had 5,000 attendees spread out over nine hours. This year, it's only four hours; it will feel less drawn out. It's less than half the cost [as last year]. Admission is only $5, plus you get a commemorative set of beads. We expect attendance to be dramatically higher in a smaller space over a smaller amount of time, which we hope translates into a lot of energy.