Click here to download a PDF of Staci Stift’s letter to the community. The text of the letter is also posted here.
An Open Letter from the President of Pride St. Louis, Inc.
Why does the LGBT Community celebrate Pride? Originally, Pride was held as a tribute to the Stonewall Riots which occurred the last weekend of June in 1969. It has since progressed over the years to promote a world where there is full cultural, social and legal equality for all. Pride St. Louis Inc. welcomes you to “Celebrate the past, to awake the future” this June.
On behalf of the 2012-2013 Board of Directors I am excited to announce our move from Tower Grove Park to Soldier’s Memorial in downtown St. Louis for the 2013 Pride Festival and Parade.
This was by no means an easy decision for the Board, but one that we feel is the best for this organization and the LGBT Community that we represent. Pride St. Louis’ mission is to foster an understanding and tolerance of the LGBT community in the general population by raising awareness through educational programs and events ultimately leading up to the annual PrideFest in St. Louis. We feel this move was long overdue as the LGBT Community that we represent has become more of an essential part of the overall community of St. Louis in recent years. As the LGBT community in St. Louis continues to evolve, it is time for our festival to evolve as well. As we are still fighting for equality, this move represents just one more step towards LGBT Equal Rights within our own city.
Several factors went into this decision. This was not, I repeat, not a decision that was made lightly. Talk of moving the festival started several years ago. In November, I personally met with the Park Director and his assistant to discuss the possibility of having festival at Tower Grove in 2013, as the board does every year. I asked several questions pertaining to the restricted uses, the cost, and much more. Once I was informed that the park would not consider lowering the cost or scaling back on the many restrictions, I mentioned that the board would have to consider other locations to host festival in 2013. I also spoke with the CID Director for South Grand and had asked her about the possibility of moving the festivities into the neighborhood, such as an evening event in the parking lot behind the Commerce Bank. I was informed that was not a possibility as the neighborhood had already made their stance known that they were not happy about late evening events. I informed her that there were discussions about moving the festival. I received no response. Unfortunately, no one from the Park or from the South Grand Business District attended any Pride Meetings; even after being informed that the board was going to be discussing the move.
This was not a unilateral decision by any means. Pride St. Louis has been very open in asking and requesting the input from the community. Over the past several months we have made numerous calls for the community to join in the planning of the festival by joining several committees, and attending open meetings. There have been festival surveys, polls, questionnaires, meetings and more where the community and our allies have had the opportunity to voice their opinions. Each month our meetings are announced as to where they will be and that they are open to the public. Unfortunately, even with increased announcements, we have low to no turnout from the community. The festival does not happen overnight, it is a year round volunteer, unpaid job to make this happen. Pride St. Louis can always use the help from the community that we voluntarily serve. I encourage everyone that reads this letter to fill out the volunteer form on our website, attend a monthly board meeting, or simply ask a board member or past board member how to get involved. It’s not easy work, but is rewarding.
I’ve been asked if cost was a factor. Yes, cost was a factor, but not the only factor. Tower Grove Park fees are now over $15,ooo to secure the space for the festival. When faced with the higher costs and more restrictions as to what we could do at the park, serious discussions began about moving the festival. Yes, we do rent the park from Center Cross to Grand Ave, but we are only allowed to realistically use about 35% of the area that we pay to use. The tight restrictions the park places on all festivals there make the space very restrictive.
- Did you know that we are not allowed to place tents in the grass? This is why our vendors are relegated to be on the asphalt.
- Did you know that there are only two useable water sources in the park? This is why it is difficult to adequately run cooling stations for our visitors.
- Did you know that the reason the stage has never moved is because of the restrictions of placing things in the grass and the neighboring houses complaining about the noise from the music?
Our festival directors were beginning to be stifled as to what they could do at the park. The feedback we did receive from the community asked for things to be new, to be exciting and to not be given the same festival year in and year out.
Another issue I continue to hear from feedback from the community is how our festival’s entertainment needs to improve. I know that everyone wants to see Kathy Griffin or Lady Gaga, but those artists come with hefty price tags. With our festival being free, please understand the entertainment committee is doing the best job they can to bring you quality entertainment with the limited budget they have to work with. Most entertainers that I hear people mentioning they want to see at Pride are in the $50,000 – $100,000 range. Last year Pride St. Louis was able to bring you the best line up in years and that was due to the dedicated people on the entertainment committee that worked overtime to fight for better artist pricing. Frenchie Davis, Kristine W, Deborah Cox, Margret Cho, Pandora Box and Shelby Lynne as well as a variety of local and regional entertainers were presented to festival goers over the course of the weekend. Most other Pride Festivals that are comparable to our city’s size would kill for that many name entertainers. They might not be what everyone thinks of as current, but did you know this was Shelby Lynne’s first PrideFest performance? Did you know that Deborah Cox is now on Broadway? Have you heard that Frenchie Davis came out as a lesbian only a few weeks before she was on our stage here in St. Louis? And Margret Cho at St. Louis Pride Fest! Without the help of our sponsor Lumiere Place, that would not have ever happened last year.
Speaking of sponsors, I continue to hear a lot about the festival and parade and the fact that we have too many corporate sponsors. Yes, we do have corporate sponsors. The sponsors, corporate and local make it possible for Pride St. Louis to continue to make this festival available to our community. Without the sponsors the organization would not be able to produce the festival the community continues to ask for. We are continually asked for better entertainment, better accommodations, better facilities, and more space. We as an organization cannot do this alone. Between fundraisers and sponsors we have been able to continue to bring you the best festival and parade we can. What I don’t believe people understand or know is that we are not bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars through corporate sponsors. Last year the sponsorship committee, which consisted of three people, was able to procure around $78,000. $78,000 does not go very far within a festival that costs nearly $200,000 to produce. I hear people claim that we only have the corporate sponsors there to “clamor for my gay dollars”. The sponsors that we have had in the past several years are companies that have LGBT inclusion policies within their company, that offer domestic partner benefits, that have diversity groups, and do so much more for the LGBT community than just “clamor” for you dollar. These sponsors are there to show their support of the LGBT Community. Stop at their booth and talk with them. You might be surprised to find out why they are there.
No matter where a festival is held, security is an important concern. Pride St. Louis has and will continue to work for the security and comfort of our guests. While at Tower Grove Park we had paid security and at the new location we will also have paid security and off-duty police officers. This is not something that we take lightly, your safety, no matter where the festival is held is one of the most important factors in festival planning.
We are excited about this move to downtown for several reasons. These are only a few; it affords a more accessible venue for visitors and residents of St. Louis. There are several parking possibilities surrounding the grounds, including the meters which are free in downtown on the weekend. We are also working on shuttles to be running from lots close to the grounds. The MetroLink station is basically at the front door of the new festival grounds, and a shuttle is being discussed for that as well. Out of town Festival goers will have access to closer hotels and shuttles to our grounds as well. There is more useable space and we plan to use it! For those concerns about the intimate feeling of the park now being gone, it will still be felt; we are moving downtown, but we are still holding the festivities in a park, there are still several areas for you to bring a lawn chair and relax under a tree and enjoy the festival. I encourage you to take a walk around the new festival grounds, to visit the Memorial and the Museum. Take the time to explore the new home for Pride Fest 2013.
As a board, we know that now is the perfect time for the next step forward in the evolution of the festival and parade. Our great city of St. Louis is very proud of the LGBT community and we feel it is time to be front and center within our City, not just our community. By holding our annual festival downtown we are showing not only St. Louis, but Missouri and others that we are here and an integral part of the overall community.
Lastly, I invite you to join us for our first Town Hall meeting of 2013. It will be held on Monday, January 21st. The location will be posted on our web and Facebook page by January 7th.
President, Pride St. Louis, Inc.