The 32nd Annual PrideFest Milwaukee officially kicks off on June 7 at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, joining the National LGBTQ Pride Month celebration.

PrideFest 2019 held a short preview tour of the festival grounds for local media on June 5, joined by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. PrideFest Milwaukee is the world’s largest LGBTQ pride festival staffed entirely by volunteers, and the only national festival to have its own dedicated event grounds.

One of the new features this year is the Red Light District, an indoor, 18+ area focused on LGBTQ sex, alternative lifestyles, consent, and education. Vendors will sell adult-oriented merchandise in the space that also hosts demonstrations, Q&A sessions, and interactive activities.

“I’ve watched this festival grow year after year,” said County Executive Abele. “While I enjoy all the festivals, I think there’s no festival that is more exciting, fun, inclusive, and representative of everything that I love About Milwaukee than PrideFest.”

Despite unseasonable weather, PrideFest Milwaukee welcomed 45,400 visitors in 2018, a 21% increase vs. 2017. That set a new record as the largest LGBTQ pride event ever held in Wisconsin. With clear weather predicted for this year, attendance could exceed that total.

“I encourage everyone to come and make this another record year. I want people to have a great time at one of the most enjoyable festivals there is, and celebrate what is great about Milwaukee: inclusion, tolerance, diversity, great bands, and about as much fun as it is possible to have anywhere,” added County Executive Abele.

This year’s festival theme, “RISE!” honors the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, where LGBTQ liberation and pride were born. The festival also celebrates the pioneers who rose up against violence, discrimination, and exclusion despite impossible odds.

“For the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this year, we are doing a lot to connect with our community,” said Jorna Taylor, Vice President of Development. “It is important that we keep having a dialogue with elected officials, and make sure our community partners are part of the PrideFest showcase. This is a little different than other Milwaukee festivals, and because we kick off the summer season it is incredibly important that we provide a safe space for folks to come, be themselves, and feel like we are giving them the support and resources to live proud to be who they are.”

In March, Twenty-one members of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce received a score of 100 and the distinction of being one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality” on the 2019 Corporate Equality Index, compiled by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The distinction was one of the many factors that convinced the Democratic National Committee to award Milwaukee as the site of its 2020 national convention.

“This is what I lovingly refer to as my full-time non-paid job,” added Taylor. “PrideFest is run by all volunteers who do not get paid anything to do this. It is a true labor of love. We work on this year round, so the planning for 2020 will start on the Tuesday after PrideFest – not the Monday. We need a day off, otherwise we plan 364 days a year.”

The June 6 Launch Party features headliner Greyson Chance, award-winning local favorites DJ Shawna and Lex Allen, the Milwaukee Drag Review, hosts T Rex and Melee McQueen, and a stunning array of DJs, dancers, performance artists and pyrotechnics at the Dance Pavilion.

“In this landmark year for the LGBTQ community, we want everyone to join us for our Opening Ceremonies,” said Michail Takach, vice president of communications. “We hope to remove economic barriers to PrideFest, in ways that are meaningful for the community and responsible for the festival.”

A free QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) Pride Social on June 8, and memorial moments are scheduled throughout the weekend. To eliminate economic barriers for LGBTQ youth, the festival has donated 1,000 tickets to Wisconsin Gay-Straight Alliances. For 2019, featured entertainment includes Kim Petras, Greyson Chance, Dragapalooza! with Trixie Mattel, and over 120 acts on eight stages, over four days.

PrideFest’s Plus One Campaign supports the UW-Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center. By adding $1, or any dollar amount, to ticket purchases, festival visitors can support the next generation of local LGBTQ leadership.

“The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC) is honored to connect with Milwaukee Pride this year with the PrideFest Plus One Campaign. With every dollar or more festival goers give beyond the ticket price, the UWM LGBTRC has the ability to create visible and impactful programming that connects students on campus to one another, as well as to community partners. We create programming and educational outreach centered around education, art and culture, health and wellness, and community building all of which foster a sense of belonging for LGBTQIA+ students, future LGBTQIA+ leaders. We work to build sustainable partnerships between the queer and local campus community, in things like the Annual UWM Drag Show, or our Lavender Graduation Ceremony held every May, that highlight intersectional lived experiences.” – Jen Murry, Director of the LGBT Resource Center at UWM

The award-winning Resource Center, producers of the Annual UWM Drag Show, provides comprehensive support to UWM students that drive inclusion, empowerment and community activism.

The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, an education program of Milwaukee Pride, will showcase Stonewall’s impact at the History Building. The festival is also showcasing historical LGBTQ heroes with its Proud Pioneers series, currently running on Milwaukee Pride’s social media.

“We recognize that today’s pride movement was born from the resilience and resistance of yesterday’s queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people of color,” added Takach. “PrideFest 2019 needs to be both a celebration of our past and a call to action for our future. Our national landscape is darkening. This is a time for local LGBTQ heroes to rise.”

Lee Matz