PHOENIX – After more than a two-year hiatus, the Phoenix Pride festival and parade are ready to make their return and bring “pure celebration” to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think everyone is fired up and eager to get back to this,” said Jeremy Helfgot, spokesperson for Phoenix Pride. “It is both an incredible air of excitement and an air of relief; it’s been a long two and a half years since we’ve done this.”
Phoenix Pride will hold its first large-scale festival since April 2019 on Saturday and Sunday at Steele Indian School Park in central Phoenix. This year’s festivities also will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Phoenix Pride.
The 2020 festival and parade were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Phoenix Pride has held virtual events during the pandemic, but LGBTQ+ people say they have missed the positive environment fostered through in-person gatherings.
Helfgot said the community is ready to come together again for one of the largest Pride events in the Southwest.
“The challenge has been the isolation, and this weekend is the antidote, we hope,” he said.
Parade floats, live performances, a dance pavilion and an exhibitor marketplace will be featured, Helfgot said, but Phoenix Pride is more than just the festivities.
“For those people, to be able to come to Pride and have just two days out of the year when they can be themselves in a safe space and really enjoy their own identity, that’s a big deal beyond the celebration,” he said. “The absence of that for the last two and a half years has left a pretty strong impact on our community.”
Now that Pride is back in person, the president of the Grand Canyon Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is looking forward to the happiness it brings. Group members dress as nuns and work together to unite, elevate and empower LGBTQ+ Arizonans.
“With it being postponed last year, it did dwell on me a lot to not be a part of that joy of being out there in the community,” said the president of the organization, whose persona name is Sister Navi Ho.
Sister Navi Ho, who is Navajo, has missed the joy Pride brings and looks forward to a big turnout this weekend.
“To see people in the parade route and just see people cheering and having a great time and just loving who they are, I think that’s going to be the most amazing thing in the whole wide world to see,” Sister Navi Ho said.
The parade will start at 10 a.m. Saturday at Third Street and Thomas Road, heading 1 mile north to the park.
“If you’re interested in seeing color,” Helfgot said, referring to the various floats, performers and identity flags, “this is going to be the most colorful spot in Arizona.”
Festival organizers stressed that Pride festivities are open to everyone, and they encouraged allies to attend. There are two main stages, and headliners include Mýa, Neon Trees and Deborah Cox. One-day admission for ages 12 and older is $30, a two-day pass is $50, and children younger than 11 get in free.
Phoenix Pride will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for outdoor gatherings and will have personal protective equipment available on request. Rapid COVID-19 tests will be on-site at the health and wellness marketplace, and free COVID-19 vaccinations will be available to those who are eligible.
Ernie Mendoza, volunteer and former president of Phoenix Pride, said he’s excited for Phoenix Pride’s return and what this festival will bring to the community.
“Being able to be out and be with other people that identify as yourself, similar in one way or another, is important because it makes them realize not all is lost,” he said.
Phoenix Pride started relatively small in the 1980s, Mendoza said, but it has grown dramatically over the years, and he hopes this year’s event will revitalize the atmosphere around Pride.
“People have been down for just so long that I think this is necessary,” he said. “I think every festival event that happens within the next year is going to make a lot of people happy. For our community, this Pride event is basically a relighting of a flame to get people out and about and enjoying life again.”
Sister Navi Ho sees a bigger benefit.
“By having a day like this, we get to be ourselves, but we also need to take that beyond that, beyond this one day, this one weekend. We have pride every day. We have pride in ourselves.”