Nashville Pride: past, present, and future

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Some form of a Pride celebration has existed in Nashville since 1988. But the small group of people who marched from Fannie Mae Dees Park in June of ’88 would be amazed at how far Nashville’s Pride festivities have come.

The first celebrations drew a few hundred attendees; that number has grown steadily over the past 17 years with the 2005 festival expected to bring in more than 10,000 people. When those first marchers came to the conclusion of their parade route they were dwarfed by the expanse of Centennial Park; this year Pride Fest fills not only the main park area but is expanding onto the second lawn as well.

This year’s Pride Fest has a bigger headliner, more vendors and more sponsorship than ever before. So if Pride Fest has come this far and grown so consistently, what will Nashville Pride look like five or 10 or 15 years from now?

Former Pride President Pam Wheeler has great expectations for Pride Fest. “The stage has been set for it to continue to grow – in budget, attendance and support,” she said.

But as Pride grows, more and more demands are placed on the staff that plans, organizes and executes Pride Fest. Many board members take time off work in the weeks leading up to the festival and, during May and June, spend about as much time on Pride as they do on their day jobs.

One way in which the Pride board has dealt with these increasing demands is by outsourcing certain Pride projects to other groups. Current Vice President Jeanna Emert explained that “instead of putting the Pride Guide together ourselves this year… we partnered with Out & About to get it done, and that was a great decision. O&AN got to do what they’re best at – producing a top-quality publication – and we were able to utilize those volunteer hours for something else.”

The current president of Pride, Michael Bassham, thinks that in order for Pride to continue to grow in the future, more outsourcing will have to happen. “Contracting out different parts of the festival is something that will allow it to grow… and the role of the Pride board will be more in planning and coordinating.”

In addition to placing more responsibility on the Nashville Pride staff, the growing Pride festival also demands more and more from its volunteers. Last year it took 150-175 volunteers to put on Pride Fest. “The guy that picks up trash on the day of the festival is a volunteer, he’s not being paid for that… and sometimes I wish more people would realize that and even stop and thank him… because it’s his effort, and the efforts of all the volunteers, that makes Pride happen. They put on Pride Fest for the community.”

But Wheeler says that “Pride has always struggled to keep new, dedicated people involved.” As Pride continues to grow there is only so much that can be asked of its volunteers.

“We are operating about as efficiently as we can with a staff that’s completely volunteer,” Emert said. “In a few years, I see Pride events attracting between 13,000 and 18,000 people, and attracting at least $30,000 – $50,000 worth of sponsorship. I believe that at that point, you really need someone – or a few people – who are at least part-time paid employees of Pride.”

Pride organizations in other parts of the country have some part- or full-time staff members that are paid to run the festivals. This may be the direction that Pride in Nashville is heading. According to Bassham, Nashville’s Pride Fest is “the 3rd largest GLBT event in the Southeast, followed by Gay Days at Disney World and Atlanta Pride.” If Pride can continue to attract motivated volunteers, outsource more projects to other groups and eventually support one or more paid employees, it may not be long before Nashville becomes host to the biggest GLBT celebration in the region.