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The first major Milwaukee summer festival has joined the rest of the city, and the nation, in altering its plans in the face of the current global coronavirus pandemic.
PrideFest, Wisconsin’s largest LGBTQ+ event, announced on Wednesday that it will postpone its 2020 edition, originally scheduled for Thursday, June 4 through Sunday, June 7 at the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds.
"With 45,000 people, we are still credited as the world’s largest LGBTQ event on fairgrounds, and that’s a moniker that took years to earn," said Wes Shaver, president of Milwaukee Pride, Inc. "It’s just irresponsible to the health and wellness and wellbeing of our festival attendees to think we could hold this off and still try to get this in knowing all of the other precautions people are taking. It would just be irresponsible, and we owe it to our community and our festival attendees to put them first."
Planning was already well underway for the 2020 four-day celebration, Shaver notes, with musical acts under contract as well as marketing and media placements arranged. But considering the threat of coronavirus, the drastic and necessary measures being taken across Milwaukee and the globe to reign in its spread, and their responsibility to their guests and to their own financial solvency, Shaver and Milwaukee Pride made the difficult decision to postpone the festival – the first time that’s happened in the event’s history.
It’s an extremely hard choice, one that was discussed thoroughly since March 2, Shaver notes – not only considering it’s unprecedented history for PrideFest but, most importantly, because of the impact the postponement could have on local LGBTQ+ partners.
"Over the last three years, it became very evident to me that this weekend has a positive financial impact not only across the city, but making a difference for LGBT bars and establishments as well," Shaver said. "I’m not trying to come across as a martyr here, but I’m aware of the impact the festival has – and I take it very seriously and sincerely. I want to make sure that I can help create energy and excitement and hopefully drive business to those bars despite us postponing the event until later in the year."
Indeed, while PrideFest is postponed to a yet unknown date, Shaver and the rest of Milwaukee Pride Inc. have no intentions of doing away with the festival completely for 2020. Conversations are already in the works with the Summerfest grounds on another set of dates later in the summer. But if that falls through, or if the coronavirus is still affecting and changing the way the country congregates, Shaver has no shortage of ideas to keep PrideFest alive and celebrating in 2020.
"If (the Summerfest grounds) are not a possibility for 2020, I want to create other events – potentially throw back to our history and do something in a city park, or if the parade is able to keep its dates in June, and they want to do a June event in the neighborhood, I would be more than happy to find ways to facilitate sponsorships, help book entertainers, etc., to make that Sunday or that weekend as big as humanly possible without the festival," Shaver noted.
"I am confident that something will happen. Maybe that means a small festival in the park with a block party in Walker’s Point. Maybe it’s not one weekend of 45,000 people, but dammit, it’s three events each with 20,000 or 10,000. It’s my directive to create spaces for people."
Because in the end, PrideFest isn’t just another Milwaukee summer festival. It’s not just a weekend of music and fun. It’s more personal than that – and, as it’s proven over more than three decades, too powerful to be shut down completely, even in unprecedented times.
"The disparities in equality are still very large, and it’s important for LGBT people to have accessibility to exercise and celebrate the Pride Movement in the context of their individuality," Shaver said. "Pride to me is different than for my black trans sister. No one’s right or wrong in what it means to them. But people need to have that safe, inclusive and welcoming outlet in order to celebrate it – because some people, most people, can’t every day."
Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for more updates on coronavirus postponements and cancellations, as well as updates on rescheduled events as life returns to normal – hopefully sooner than later if we do this right as a community, as a city, as a nation and as a human race. We’re in this together.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.