Director’s Cut: 4 Pride Directors Speak Out


By Jocelyn Voo
Curve magazine

Pride — with its hard bodies, disco divas and endless partying — often seems to be a boys’ wonderland, but several of the biggest Pride celebrations in the United States are actually run by lesbians. Here’s their insider’s guide to what it takes to put on a festival to remember.

Lindsey Jones
Executive Director, San Francisco Pride

Growing up in the heyday of the Civil Rights movement and second-wave feminism, 44-year-old executive director Lindsey Jones always knew she wanted to have an impact on the community. Jones, who came out in her mid-20s and is a former director of AIDS Walk San Francisco, worked with organizations dedicated to child abuse prevention, domestic violence, and alcohol and drug rehabilitation before she joined SF Pride in March 2004.

“For years, before other Prides came into existence, San Francisco stood as a beacon of hope to those in smaller cities, rural communities and from all over the globe, [symbolizing] that it is OK to be who we are, unapologetically,” she says. Indeed, the two-day celebration, which started as a “gay-in” 36 years ago, has grown to be the largest LGBT event in the nation, drawing an estimated 500,000 out-of-towners in June.

Besides Pride, Jones and her team also provide leverage and support to other queer groups, committees and organizations. For example, they are currently mentoring Iqaluit Pride and Friends of Pride on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, the only LGBT organization in the Nunavut Territory. San Francisco Pride, a nonprofit organization, also grants over $150,000 each year to other local nonprofits.

“I get chills every time and a lovely feeling in the pit of my stomach
[every time we put on Pride],” Jones says. “My hope is that the people who attend, the volunteers who work it, the entertainers on the stages, the vendors and businesses who participate, the contingents who march in the parade — and that city street cleaner — all feel connected, a part of something important, a part of a movement.”

Pam Kinsmith
Co-Chair, Northampton Pride

Northampton, Mass., a lesbian Mecca in its own right, needs no introduction. Pam Kinsmith remembers the joy when she first visited the town: “I was blown away. Walking down the street hand in hand? What?”

Before working with Northampton Pride, where she and Melinda Shaw are now co-chairs, the 38-year-old says that gay activism wasn’t much on her radar. It wasn’t until she met her future wife, Kirsten, that Kinsmith got involved with LGBT and pro-female organizations, such as the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and Northampton Pride.

Kinsmith and her wife are about to adopt a little boy and his sister, and have been busily refurbishing a bedroom in their house for their new young ones. “I am really proud to be able to be married in Massachusetts to the person I love, and thrilled that our state will also support us as we become adoptive parents,” she says. “The network of people here is so amazing that I couldn’t imagine embarking on parenthood anywhere else.

The community’s response to Northampton Pride, now celebrating its 25th year, has been encouraging, with many local businesses showing support through sponsorship. Girlyman is the headlining the event this year, with America’s Next Top Model finalist Kim Stolz as emcee. However, with scant volunteers, Kinsmith and the rest of the committee wear multiple hats, from marketing to making sure there’s enough water at the tents during the festival. Still, that’s not to say there’s a lack of camaraderie: “It warms me when I meet someone brand new who comes to me and says, ‘Can I help you with that?’”

Donna Narducci
Executive Director, Atlanta Pride

As a member of the Atlanta Pride Committee for 13 years and its executive director since 1995, Donna Narducci, 47, has had her fair share of diffusing adverse situations: Last year, “We had these religious protestors set up their PA system right at the entrance to the park where our festival is held. … I got a stroke of the spirit myself and had the Delta/Coca-Cola float with its gigantic sound system park their float right there at the entrance and turn that area into a giant, dancing-in-the-street experience that drowned out the protestors, took away their power to spew their hate, and we took back our event!”

Before working for APC, Narducci was one of the few out administrators in Student Activities at Emory University and at Georgia Tech in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which she says fostered her interest in queer activism.

Atlanta Pride spans three days and draws over 250,000 visitors, and is the largest gathering of LGBT organizations in Atlanta. “It can be so totally nerve-wracking at times that I wonder why I’m still doing it,” Narducci admits, adding that she avoids bringing work baggage home to her girlfriend, opting to read a book or play with their dog instead. “But over and over I meet so many people who tell me how much their coming to Atlanta’s Pride event for the first time meant to them, and then I am humbly reminded of the importance of the event and why we all keep doing it.”

Nikki Leonard
Co-Chair, Boise Pride

Nikki Leonard is co-chair of Your Family, Friends and Neighbors, a leading LGBT advocacy group in Idaho that produces Pride each year. This year, Boise Pride, started in the 1990s as a response to anti-gay ballot initiatives, is leading the fight against the state’s anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, and Curve executive editor and Idaho native Diane-Anderson Minshall is the event’s keynote speaker.

Leonard, a 50-year-old Los Angeles native, is a pre-op transperson who identifies primarily as lesbian, which may explain this year’s emphasis on trans awareness. Her trans activism started with furtive participation in her local transgender support group, then branched into joining the board of the local LGBT community center and eventually heading YFFN.

Boise isn’t exactly known for its political or social progressiveness, but Leonard insists that’s what makes Boise Pride such a crucial event — so queers can feel genuinely at home in their surroundings, both geographical and social.

“I think a big component of Pride is the celebration — it’s like an affirmation of all the goodness we bring to life,” she says. “So, for me, in the midst of all the emotions and stress of fighting for our rights, I need to remember to deliberately keep joy in my life — to celebrate who I am and who I am becoming.”

Kim Backer-Kelley
Co-Chair, Gainesville Pride

Kim Backer-Kelley, a retired locksmith who has worked with various local queer events for eight years, feels a personal commitment to the LGBT agenda. “I wanted to be involved with the community that helped me through my lesbian area of my life,” says the 35-year-old Florida native, who admits that though she had worked as a Sunday school teacher for nine years, she was going to church during the day and gay bars at night. “I went through a time in my life of not understanding who I am. Like all of us.”

Gainesville Pride, which has been going on for over 10 years, attracts all kinds of Floridians as well as out-of-state visitors, but having the University of Florida in the same city is particularly conducive to the involvement of young supporters and participants. This, she hopes, will set an example and encourage a new generation of activists, as it did for her: “I feel that my skills are from watching and learning from others in my community,” she says.

“I have a saying,” she adds. “Be yourself, because no one else can.”

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