by Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
The members of Rhode Island Pride honored the organizers of the state’s first-ever Gay Pride celebration with the Pyramid of Pride award at their 11th annual Spotlight Awards, held October 22 at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center in Pawtucket. The event kicked off the 35th Anniversary of RI Pride.
Rodney Davis, the chairman of RI Pride, praised the marchers known as the “76ers”, noting the LGBT community is “better, stronger and more visible because of their actions.”
In June 1976, 40 people marched through the streets of downtown Providence in an effort to show the world that queers are here and are proud. The Police Chief at the time had opposed issuing a permit for the march, telling the Providence Journal: “This is the first time they’ve marched and I hope the last. It’s a disgrace.”
According to the Gay Community News, the Police Chief “stated privately that he did not want to be remembered as the man who brought faggots to the streets of Providence.”
Thirty-four years later, the Mayor of Providence is an openly gay man (David Cicilline) who is the Democratic nominee for the state’s First Congressional District.
“So much has changed,” said Cicilline, noting the increased social acceptance of gays and lesbians in the past several decades.
That sense of history, and how far the LGBT community has come, was a key theme of the evening.
A slideshow titled “Great Moments in RI GLBT History,” narrated by Jacqueline DiMera, was a rainbow-colored trip down memory lane, beginning with the Ocean State’s founding in 1630 by Roger Williams, who sought religious tolerance.
Outgoing Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy was honored with the Spirit of Pride award for his support of LGBT issues during his time in Congress. Kennedy was one of the first legislators to openly support same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
“If we do not have people like Congressman Kennedy elected, we will not be celebrating freedoms,” Davis said, adding: “we have a lot of work to do.”
Another Spirit of Pride honoree was the late Rosie DiNicola, who was a loyal volunteer for RI Pride and raised money for AIDS Care Ocean State.
“She was the volunteer I never had to call. She was just there,” Davis said, calling DiNicola “loving, warm, and non-judgmental.”
Awards were given to the groups featured in last June’s Illuminated Nighttime Parade. The President’s Award was given to Extraordinary Rendition Band. RKO Army won the Committee Award. The award for Best Walking Unit was given to the employees of Lifespan. The award for Best Interpretation of Theme was presented to Girlspot/Club Gallery. The Best Illuminated Float was SeaQuel; and the Best Float award went to Dark Lady/Alley Cat.
There was a tribute to the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” by RKO Army, and celebrity impersonator Eddie Edwards thrilled the attendees with a smashing medley of Bette Midler tunes.
A video retrospective of last June’s triumphant Pride celebration concluded the evening.