By Kellyn Vuchetich
June 17, 2021
This Saturday, June 19, Star City Pride will be hosting their first ever in-person Pride Parade. The parade was originally intended to debut during last year’s Pride Festival, which was cancelled due to COVID. With some quick thinking, the organization decided to put on a virtual parade in its place.
“When we cancelled the festival last year it kind of left us without anything to do, but we knew that we had to do something Pride related,” says Dan Huntley, Vice President of Star City Pride. “The virtual parade was a nice solution. It got a lot of online traffic so we were really happy with the way that turned out.”
Last year’s virtual celebration consisted of livestreamed messages from partner organizations, as well as pre-recorded messages from political figures and sponsors. Huntley says they were prepared to host an entirely virtual event again if necessary. Thanks to the declining rate of COVID cases, the 2021 festival and parade will be held in-person with livestreaming options for those who wish to participate remotely. Ticket packages can be found on the Star City Pride website. “We’re anxious to see how people attend,” says Huntley.
So far, the 2021 Parade has received at least 30 entries for floats, vehicles, and groups on foot. “Our goal was between 50-100, so that’s something to aim for next year. We might still hit it this year,” says Huntley. One of the parade’s Grand Marshals will be KZUM’s own, Phil Kessler.
Kessler hosts the show Lavender Hill, which he describes as “a full hour of news, views, interviews, and music by, for, and about the LGBTQIA2S/SOGI community with an emphasis on Nebraska.” Since 2011, Kessler has interviewed local musicians, community leaders, and activists, promoted events like Star City Pride, the Classy Tacky Ball, and the Prairie Pride Film Festival, and provided coverage of political issues like same-sex marriage, adoption rights, and the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender service members.
Kessler has participated in Star City Pride by running the KZUM info booth for 11 years, but he never expected the invitation to be honored in such a significant way. “I was floored. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I quickly responded back with my excitement to be involved,” says Kessler. “I later learned from the Parade committee that it was a unanimous decision to ask me to be one of their Grand Marshals for the first-ever in-person Star City Pride Parade. You can’t imagine how much that means to me. I’m still in awe.”
Kessler’s co-Grand Marshal will be Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, one of SCP’s founding members. Huntley describes the beginnings of SCP at the Panic bar in 2006: “That first year was maybe a hundred people in a park in a bandshell, a hundred degrees, maybe an hour and a half long, but it was a Pride event. It was something.” he says. Since then, SCP has steadily expanded. “We keep outgrowing our spaces, and that’s not a bad problem to have.”
The Star City Pride Festival will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday at Matt Lot on 8th and S Streets and will continue into Saturday following the morning parade. The weekend will feature 50+ vendors, interactive events, speakers, and entertainers such as CoCo Montrese of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 and Garek. “As it gets darker maybe the music gets a little more PG-13 than PG, but it is an all-ages event,” says Huntley. In addition to big-name headliners, the program features a variety of local performers. “We put a really big focus on local entertainment, so we want to give folks who perform locally the opportunity to be able to perform if they’re available.”
A celebration of Juneteenth on Saturday will include speakers from the Black Leaders Movement and a performance by the group Melanin Magic. “Our theme is Together We Rise. We like the unity message, especially coming out of a COVID year where we didn’t get the opportunity to be together, and coming out of a year with a lot of turmoil, racial and otherwise. We think it’s important to support our friends.” says Huntley.
OutNebraska, a non-partisan education and advocacy organization which serves the LGBTQIA2S+ community across the state, has had a booth at the Pride Festival since they were founded in 2011 and has been a sponsor for a number of years. Executive Director Abbi Swatsworth says this year their booth will provide the opportunity to register to vote, sign up to volunteer or contribute to OutNebraska, or purchase passes to the Prairie Pride Film Festival, which the organization will host starting July 15.
Swatsworth praises SCP for their commitment to organizing Pride. “They are actually a really amazing hardworking group of volunteers who plan the event.” Star City Pride is run by an all-volunteer board and relies completely on volunteer participation to help make the event possible.
“A lot of this is our own elbow grease this year,” says Huntley. “I feel like our organization should be a mentor for growing Prides.” Those interested in volunteering for the event can visit starcitypride.org or the Star City Pride Facebook page for more information. In return, volunteers will receive free admission for the day.
Kellyn Vuchetich is a journalism intern with KZUM.