By David Lansaw
It seemed like the whole thing was created out of thin air. A small group of people decided that it was time for Cleveland to have a Pride celebration. I credit Martha Pontoni with the initial idea. She was among those who had boot-strapped the Gay People’s Chronicle into existence, and now she wanted to do the same thing with a Pride celebration. Like a lot of us, she was tired of seeing Clevelanders leave town and go to Columbus, Pittsburgh, or Chicago to celebrate Pride.
There was a core group of about a dozen volunteers involved in planning the event. We had no budget, no strategy, we didn’t ask permission or approval from anyone, we just rolled up our shirtsleeves and made it happen. We weren’t even sure that anyone would attend, but we decided it didn’t matter. “We’re doing it for ourselves,” we said.
We knew we wanted a festival with a stage and music and food, but then someone said “let’s have a march too.” It was ultimately decided a march was too ambitious for our first year, but we did it the following year in 1990. We didn’t call it a parade in those days, too fanciful. We wanted to be taken seriously, although the finished product sure looked like a parade to me. Someone had painted a pickup truck bright pink and filled the bed with drag queens who threw candy to the sidelines. I think the theme of the march was “We Can’t Even March Straight,” or something to that effect. Very serious stuff.
I remember setting up tables at the crack of dawn on the morning of the event. The rest of the day is a blur, but I do remember seeing happy faces everywhere I looked. Attendance was modest, maybe a thousand people. We had no way to keep track. But we knew that against all odds, we had laid the groundwork for something worthwhile. Cleveland finally had a hometown Pride celebration.
David and I met concurrently through our jobs, each of us working at community development organizations in Cleveland, and through Pride ’89. We became friends and later started dating in June 1991. We married in New York’s Central Park on Sunday, October 5, 2014.