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COMMENTARY: Does the headline entertainer make the Pride celebration?

I’ll never forget the first LGBT Pride celebration I attended. It was 1997, and I was 17 years old. I had just met a guy that I really liked and he invited me to come to this celebration that I had only read about in the San Diego Union-Tribune, secretly hoping I’d be able to attend one day.

I told my mom I was going to work, but I had actually requested the day off, and I took her car and headed down to Hillcrest to get a glimpse of the parade. I parked several blocks away in North Park for fear of being spotted in the general area (little did I know that parking is non-existent in Hillcrest on Pride weekend, anyway), and walked to the corner of Normal Street and University Avenue and stood behind the pole that holds up 7-Eleven’s neon sign in the corner of the parking lot. I could watch the parade step off from here, but was in safe space I could escape if things got too uncomfortable.

Even though I could only bare sticking around for about 25 minutes, I was in heaven. It was incredible to be around so many happy, cheering, free people and I couldn’t wait to truly be a part of it. Never would I imagine that I would find myself today volunteering for San Diego Pride for the 16th year, having served in a number of roles for the organization, at one point even serving as a co-announcer of the parade!

Two weeks ago I had the honor of helping San Diego Pride’s staff and volunteers announce this year’s headline entertainers at a local nightclub. While the crowd that night seemed fairly excited about the announcement, it was the community reaction that followed in the next couple of days that really got me thinking about the meaning of Pride.

(For those who missed it, the headline entertainers for the annual San Diego LGBT Pride Festival taking place July 12-14 include R&B artist Monica, and DJ Morgan Page. Other scheduled performers are listed HERE.)

After news of the announcement began circulating around Social Media, some people started posting comments such as:

“Who?”

“I guess I’m not going to Pride this year.”

“Why can’t Pride get good entertainment? I guess Pride will suck this year.”

After reading several people’s rants about what they believe to be a “lackluster” entertainment lineup this year, I had to pause and thought to myself: When did Pride become about bringing in a big name entertainer? What does having a “star-studded lineup” have to do with the meaning of “Pride?”

The mission of San Diego Pride is simple: Fostering pride in and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, locally, nationally and globally.

Most other Pride organizations whose mission statements I’ve looked at are similar, saying things like instilling pride in our community, educating and celebrating our freedom.

So why does it matter who the headline performers are?

Now, I’m not naive. I clearly recognize that there are lots of people who are more likely to come to a celebration if there is some sort of celebrity draw. Bringing in a performer like Lady Gaga certainly would send the masses running to the San Diego Pride Festival (in fact, there was a local community push in 2009 organized via Facebook to encourage San Diego Pride organizers to book the “Mother Monster” to perform at that year’s festival). But would these people be coming together to celebrate Pride or to simply cheer on the headline performer?

I also understand that the scenario of bringing in a superstar headline performer could potentially boost festival ticket sales, possibly bringing in more revenue for the pride organization to grant back to the community at the end of the year. But a “superstar” would also come with a hefty price tag (they don’t do it for free!) and how much could ticket prices really be raised before there would be an outcry about that?

And speaking of ticket prices, I saw lots of ramblings about the cost of admission to our local pride festival following the recent headliner announcement (although I’ve seen rants about this for years). I’m not quite sure that those who complain about the price really understand what they are getting for the $15 admission fee (or $25 for two-day admission).

Not only do ticket holders get to see nearly 100 entertainers, bands, DJs and other performances throughout the weekend, but access to the dance parties at the festival site, beer gardens (for those 21 years and older, of course), community information booths, carnival rides and other attractions are all included. It sounds like quite the bargain to me.

Discounts are always given to youth, seniors and military, and Pride is quite generous to those who just absolutely don’t have the means to afford the celebration (one simply needs to ask!). Sure, San Francisco Pride does not charge admission to its annual festival, but that city is quite different, and much of their event production costs are subsidized by the city. Most other major Pride celebrations do have some sort of admission fee to enter.

So where and we did we come up with the idea that we need to rally around a superstar performer to be able to celebrate our Pride?

I know that for me, even after attending for 17 years, Pride is still a very special weekend in which I am overwhelmed with joy being able to catch up with all of my friends and fellow community members, being able to be open and free with thousands of other people, and watching our youth (and others) who are attending Pride for the first time experience an exhilaration and freedom that they’ve never felt before. It’s absolutely incredible, and I certainly don’t need a superstar performer to be included in the mix.

Would an announcement of a superstar like Lady Gaga, Cher, Katy Perry or someone of similar caliber performing at Pride excite me? Absolutely. But in the absence of that, I’m still just as excited to attend San Diego Pride 2013 as I was for the first time in 1997.

And this year, when I get a break from my volunteer shifts, I plan to be in the audience enjoying the great entertainment that has been planned, including Monica, DJ Morgan Page, Justin Utley, Pandora Boxx and others.

Pride means something different to everyone, but I think most will agree that it’s a time to celebrate who we are and be together as a community.

Over this year’s Pride weekend I’ll be volunteering, celebrating, and supporting this amazing organization that works hard year round to make sure that everyone is able to experience that incredible feeling that I look forward to each and every July - no matter who is performing on the main stage.

What does Pride mean to you? Let us know! Send us a letter to the editor or write a guest column. And send them to me for posting.

Benny Cartwright is a staff writer for SDGLN. His opinions are his own. Cartwright has volunteered for San Diego Pride in numerous support and leadership roles since 1998, and has also been helping out with Palm Springs Pride since 2010. Contact him at ben@sdgln.com, by phone at 877-727-5446 ext. 707, or @Benny_C on Twitter.