When it comes to June, celebrating pride is the best thing to do
By: Andrew Collins*/TRT Travel Columnist—
If revel in the camaraderie and positive energy of attending Pride festivals, or even if you just have a mild interest in LGBTQ history, New York City is a great place to be in June. In 2019, the city—and, in fact, all of New York State—hosts a monthlong series of events that will both commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and celebrate WorldPride (held on U.S. soil for the first time since it began in 2000). WorldPride–Stonewall 50 (2019-worldpride-stonewall50.nycpride.org) is presenting dozens of amazing parties, rallies, and cultural programs, culminating, of course, with the legendary NYC Pride March, on Sunday, June 30.
Countless Pride festivals and marches take place during June Pride Month, including a number of high-profile ones—Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC among them. But many other destinations, especially those outside the United States, stage their Prides at other times, often in summer or fall.
It’s worth noting that the size and popularity of a festival doesn’t always correspond with the city it’s held in. It might surprise you, for example, that Columbus Pride draws among the largest crowds in the country, far more than any other Ohio city and even more than Chicago. The largest Pride celebration in Florida? It’s not Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Orlando, but rather the laid-back and increasingly hip Gulf Coast city of St. Petersburg.
Another point to keep in mind: when it comes to enjoying Pride festivals, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Although it can be exhilarating to join thousands of allies at a major gathering, smaller Pride celebrations offer certain advantages. They’re usually free or inexpensive but still often book the same top-name music and comic acts that appear at larger events—and it’s easier to get close to the stage when the crowd is smaller. More intimate Prides can also feel friendlier and more community-oriented, and they frequently offer excellent programming for families, teens, seniors, and others who might feel a bit overwhelmed by bigger gatherings.
In the spirit of celebrating Pride in less obvious places, here’s a look at 10 underrated favorites throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Allentown, PA (bradburysullivancenter.org/pride) – One of several popular and well-attended Pride events in Pennsylvania, beyond the expectedly big and lively celebrations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley Pride is held August 18 in Allentown and is produced by that city’s first-rate Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. Some 5,000 participants attend this colorful festival, which is headlined this year by _RuPaul Drag Race_ stars Silky Nutmeg Ganache and A’Keria C. Davenport and includes a rally, kids and teen spaces, drag bingo, and a big after party.
Asheville, NC (blueridgepride.org). A liberal beacon in a deeply divided “purple” state that’s been at the heart of some notorious recent LGBTQ rights battles, Asheville has a tremendous amount going for it as a queer travel destination: a super-inclusive LGBTQ scene, outstanding craft breweries and restaurants, cool arts galleries, and proximity to spectacular natural scenery, from the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate to magnificent Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On September 28, the city hosts the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, an event that began just 11 years ago and has been instrumental in promoting LGBTQ visibility, diversity, and education throughout all of western North Carolina.
Burlington, VT (pridevt.org) – As summer draws to a close in the bucolic Green Mountain State, bustling Burlington hosts Vermont Pride. The main events take place on Sunday, September 8, and include an early afternoon parade through downtown that ends near gorgeous Lake Champlain at Battery Park, where a diverse, family-friendly festival offers dancing, poetry, burlesque, and music. This final weekend caps off a full week of LGBTQ events that include kid-friendly drag-queen story hour, a women’s tea dance, a Pride brunch, and more.
Harlem, NY (harlempride.org) – Not only does every borough in NYC hold its own Pride festival, the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem—long one of America’s thriving hubs of African American culture—has been the site of an increasingly popular Pride celebration since 2010. With WorldPride–Stonewall 50 taking place the same weekend in lower Manhattan, you can bet that this year’s Harlem Pride, which includes a number of events throughout the month of June and concludes with a 10th Anniversary Celebration Day on June 29, will be extra special.
New Orleans, LA (togetherwenola.com/pride) – Perhaps no American city is more famous for celebrations than New Orleans, which has held a raucous gay Southern Decadence weekend every Labor Day since 1972, not to mention over-the-top Mardi Gras parties for more than 200 years. Although this bastion of queer culture organized its first Pride in 1971, the event was pretty low-keyed for a time and has only recently developed into the spirited three-day festival it is today. Held the first weekend of June, Pride comprises fabulous galas and balls, the highlight of which is a Mardi Gras–style Pride procession through the French Quarter.
Palm Springs, CA (pspride.org) – The West Coast’s premiere queer resort destination, Palm Springs has for years drawn its biggest LGBTQ crowds for two circuit party events in April, Dinah Shore Weekend and White Party. But as this small city’s year-round community has grown and diversified in recent years, Palm Springs Pride—held the first weekend in November—has become a first-rate celebration in its own right. Featuring a Stonewall Equality Concert, a two-day festival centered around downtown and the lively gay bar strip on Arenas Road, and a Sunday Pride Parade, it also takes place during a particularly beautiful time to visit Palm Springs. Be sure to set aside an extra day to explore nearby Joshua Tree National Park and ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to 8,500-foot Mt. Jacinto.
Providence, RI (prideri.org). One of the New England’s top LGBTQ festivals, Rhode Island Pride in Providence is one of only a few such celebrations that stage a Pride Parade after dark. Held this year on June 15, the PrideFest and Illuminated Night Parade take place in the heart of this progressive and vibrant city’s downtown, with the festival running throughout the afternoon along South Water Street and featuring several notable bands and drag talents, a kids zone, and a Ferris Wheel. The wildly colorful and festive Night Parade, which included a record number of floats and contingents last year, kicks off outside City Hall at 8:30 pm.
Salt Spring Island, BC (daissi.org/salt-spring-pride) – This epically picturesque jewel of Canada’s Gulf Islands, easily reached from Vancouver and Victoria by ferry, has just 10,000 year-round residents but a remarkably active and visible LGBTQ community. Pride here is a relaxed five-day affair held the first weekend after Labor Day and drawing a mix of locals and tourists. Gatherings are friendly and welcoming and have in the past included poetry readings, drag karaoke, salmon barbecues, waterfront picnics, and a parade and party in the island’s scenic main village, Ganges.
Santa Fe, NM (pridesantafe.org) – Known for its easy-going, local vibe, Pride in the so-called City Different takes place the last week in June. In addition to several parties and a Saturday Pride Parade, notable events over the weekend include a birdwatching trek at the Audubon Center, a comedy night with Vickie Shaw, and a “sensual art show” at Santa Fe’s dazzling, one-of-a-kind art space, Meow Wolf. Long a haven of artists, writers, musicians, and other creative spirits, this stunningly situated, outdoorsy city in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has become especially popular with LGBTQ retirees over the years, which gives Pride here a more multi-generational feel than some. Calendar note: the world-famous summer-long Santa Fe Opera kicks off the same weekend as Pride.
Saskatoon, SK (saskatoonpride.ca) – This fast-growing, livable city in the heart of Canada’s Prairie Provinces has a stellar queer scene that’s especially fun to experience during its mid-June Pride celebration. Top activities during this eclectic nine-day festival include Pride at the Movies, a family barbecue, open-mic, and storytelling gatherings, and a “queers without beers” sober dance. During the big final weekend, revelers gather for a two-day Pride in the Park festival overlooking the beautiful South Saskatchewan River and a Saturday procession that’s considered the largest parade of any kind in Saskatoon.
*Writer Andrew Collins divides his time between Mexico City, Oregon, and New Hampshire. You can read more of his work at AndrewsTraveling.com.