Downtown St. Louis prepares for PrideFest

Friday, June 28, 2013 | 7:51 p.m. CDT

 ST. LOUIS — Downtown St. Louis is preparing to host the annual PrideFest for the first time in 15 years after organizers decided to move the event.

Staci Stift, president of Pride St. Louis Inc., said that the change from Tower Grove Park to downtown will provide more space and save money. Renting park space cost the nonprofit organization $15,000 last year, compared with the $4,500 for downtown space this weekend, she said.

Previous festivals have drawn up to 80,000 over the two days.

This weekend's event, capped with a Sunday parade down Market Street, comes in the wake of this week's Supreme Court decisions that gave a significant boost to same-sex marriage.

"It's time to be front and center," Stift told the Post-Dispatch. "In our mission statement, it says we are here to educate the general public on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues. To keep it small and contained doesn't follow our mission."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has been an outspoken proponent of gay rights, and the city was one of 11 nationally to get a perfect score last year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality from the Human Rights Campaign.

Steve Brawley, founder of the St. Louis LGBT History Project, said the move downtown is fitting because as the acceptance of gay people grows, so should the annual celebration. Brawley said it was not until 1993 that a city mayor spoke at a Pride festival; many public officials are now regulars at the parade.

And for the first time, the St. Louis and St. Louis County police departments will have a recruitment booth at the festival this year. Members of the military are also expected to walk in the parade in uniform.

But not everyone is happy about the event's move to downtown. An alternative Pride event is planned for Saturday that will include a picnic in Tower Grove Park and a block party in that area.

Angelo Olegna, lead organizer of the alternative event, said his group reached out to the board of Pride St. Louis, but he was told the move was already a done deal. Olegna said his group's event is Saturday only, leaving Sunday open for people to attend the parade, which is usually the most popular event of PrideFest.

"There is a large population of gays that call the Tower Grove area home, and when you move from a community to more of a downtown, corporate thing, you lose an element that I think is important, which is that community feel," Olegna said.

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