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Jim Obergefell opens PrideFest with keynote about equal justice

Milwaukee’s PrideFest celebrated its 30th year at its opening ceremony, with diverse members of the community, political leaders, and keynote speaker Jim Obergefell on June 9.

Milwaukee’s festival is unique among Pride festivals in that it has its own, permanent festival park to call home. While most Pride events around the country, including Chicago, take place at block parties, neighborhood parks, or temporary stages, PrideFest Milwaukee celebrated its 21st year at Henry W. Maier Festival Park, home to Summerfest, the nation’s largest music festival, as well as Milwaukee’s summer ethnic festivals.

PrideFest has come a long way over the past three decades, from its first 1987 picnic event held at Mitchell Park. Much of the festival’s history reflected the difficulties of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, from overwhelming social pressure against existing openly. Organizers also struggled on without the level of sponsorship and support that exists in 2017.

Obergefell v. Hodges decided whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states. Jim Obergefell initially brought his case to court when the state of Ohio denied him the right to be listed as the surviving spouse on his terminally ill husband’s death certificate.

“My late husband John and I were together for almost 21 years before he passed away from complications of ALS. No American should have to suffer that indignity,” said Obergefell. “I know in my heart that John is with me today. The Supreme Court affirmed what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts. Our love is equal. That the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court, ‘equal justice under law,’ applied to us, too. All Americans deserve equal dignity, respect and treatment when it comes to the recognition of our relationships and families.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin was a 2014 PrideFest Plus One recipient. This year the organization hosted the “Our TRANS Family” photo gallery and a LGBT History exhibit on during the event. Milwaukee Pride, Inc. designated GSAFE, formerly known as Gay Straight Alliance For Safe Schools, as the 2017 PrideFest Plus One beneficiary.

“We are humbled to be this year’s PrideFest Plus One recipient,” said Brian Juchems, GSAFE senior director of education and policy. “Proceeds raised will help us continue our work to build the leadership of LGBTQ middle and high school students through youth leadership events and camps. It allows us to continue our work with schools and districts to not only pass but implement policy that supports and includes transgender and nonbinary students.”

The sometimes used LGBTQ initialism reflects a growing effort for the inclusion of younger members of the communities who embrace queer with addition of “Q” as a self-descriptor.

PrideFest Milwaukee 2017 featured headliners Betty Who, 10,000 Maniacs, Steve Grand and Todrick Hall, along with over 150 diverse acts on eight stages to Henry W. Maier Festival Park on June 9, 10 and 11. Randy Rainbow, political commentator, will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the weekend.

This photo essay features highlights from the opening ceremony for PrideFest, that also included public messages of support from Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, and Wisconsin Representative JoCasta Zamarripa who, along with Representative Mark Spreitzer, recently introduced the Marriage Equality legislation into the State Assembly.

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