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The Big Heart of America’s Smallest Pride Festivals

Three of America’s smallest Pride festivals take place in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Los Ranchos, New Mexico. They have as much LGBT spirit as a big city.

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When it comes to Pride, size doesn’t matter.

One needn’t hop on an international flight to São Paulo and party with five million other LGBT—and LGBT-friendly—people in order to have some quality summer fun. In fact, some of the best Prides in the country are probably right around the corner from you.

InterPride, an international organization linking Prides all around the world, told The Daily Beast that the three smallest InterPride member events in the United States take place in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; and Los Ranchos, New Mexico.

Granted, there are technically smaller Prides out there: Not every Pride is a member of InterPride. And if you get sick of the June heat, you can always travel down to Antarctica to celebrate Pride Month with approximately 10 LGBT people this year.

But Kenosha, Cape Cod, and Los Ranchos all embody something special that can be found in almost every state: a small Pride event that has less of a nonstop party atmosphere and more of a friendly, community vibe.

“I think it speaks to the character of the community,” said Sean Young, Vice President of Kenosha Pride, about being one of the smallest Prides. “Even though we’re small, we still have a very active LGBT presence.”

Kenosha Pride—held this year on July 15–gathers about five hundred people in together for a march through the city’s downtown, followed by a festival at a public park. For the adults, local gay bar Club Icon sponsors a beer tent. Kids can play in the bounce house. And there’s even a special area just for pets, co-sponsored by Illinois pet groomer Peace, Paws & Harmony.

“It’s totally a family affair,” said Young.

Kenosha, Wisconsin is situated about halfway between two big cities, both of which boast much larger Pride events: Chicago and Milwaukee. LGBT people in Kenosha still attend these bigger events, Young told The Daily Beast, adding, “But they do ours, too.”

We had people in their seventies and eighties commenting that this was something they never thought they would see happen in Kenosha

Dan Seaver, President of Kenosha Pride, was part of the original ad hoc planning group for the first Kenosha Pride in 2013 and remembers the enthusiastic response to the idea of an LGBT parade through the mid-size Wisconsin city.

“Once we got the word out this was happening, the community support that came behind it was astounding,” Seaver told The Daily Beast. “We had people in their seventies and eighties commenting that this was something they never thought they would see happen in Kenosha.”

The event has grown since then, but the eight-person board of directors is still all-volunteer, planning the event on weekends and working their full-time jobs during the week. When asked if it’s challenging to pull off an all-volunteer Pride, Seaver and Young both laughed grimly, but the effect on the community makes it all worth it, they say.

“You open people’s eyes and let them see that we are their neighbors, we are their friend’s friends,” said Seaver. “To let them know that we’re no different from anybody else, I think, is important.”

Cape Cod Pride, much like Kenosha’s, runs off of volunteer labor and a slim budget. The daytime portion of the event takes place at a high school where there will be games and raffles and food vendors—and the nighttime portion, a dance party, takes place at Flynnie’s Bar in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Held on June 24, Cape Cod Pride isn’t trying to compete with Boston Pride on June 2 or with the June 1-3 Pride celebration in the nearby gay hotspot of Provincetown.

You might not think that an area of Massachusetts between Beantown and P-Town would be unwelcoming to LGBT people but as Cape Cod President Sue Wilson recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast, an earlier version of Cape Cod Pride that took place in the early 2000s was greeted with “awful signs and taunting, not from everybody but from enough people to make [the organizers] nervous.” The event stopped running.

Two years ago, when Wilson moved to Cape Cod from Boston, she saw fliers for a new version of the local Pride event, sponsored by No Place for Hate and the local branch of the LGBT family organization PFLAG.

Moved by the tragic Pulse nightclub massacre and feeling disconnected from her LGBT community back in Boston, Wilson not only went to that very small Pride, she joined its organizing committee.

“On the Cape, there’s lots of LGBTQ folks but they’re all in little pockets and those pockets aren’t connected to each other,” Wilson explained, noting that the year-round LGBT population in the vacation destination was hungry for a sense of community.

I do go to the big Pride festivals. But they don’t meet the need of helping the LGBT community here connect and develop

In 2017, the event took place indoors due to a downpour, but 450 people still showed up. This year, Cape Cod Pride is organizing the event as an independent entity.

And yes, there is a major Pride festival just up the road, but it’s just not the same.

“I do go to the big Pride festivals,” Wilson said. “But they don’t meet the need of helping the LGBT community here connect and develop.”

Bob Isadore, Vice President of Cape Cod Pride and a veteran LGBT activist, remembers how “rough going” the original Pride was in the early 2000s, and has been gratified by the transformative effects of the new incarnation of the event.

“So far, people now have totally changed,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’m sure there will be a few people who will resist and not like the idea, but the general public has been much more accepting and it’s because of these high-profile events.”

Whereas the big-city prides strike a predominantly celebratory tone and appeal primarily to the young, Isadore says that Cape Cod Pride is more of an all-ages affair that serves many purposes. The event is fun, of course, but it also serves a function.

“We need to show the local people that we are part of the community,” said Isadore.

PJ Sedillo, organizer of the eighth annual Los Ranchos Pride, used to be the president of Pride in the city of Albuquerque, which surrounds the small village of Los Ranchos De Albuquerque.

That event was drawing about 20,000 people by the end of Sedillo’s term. He told The Daily Beast that “when Sunday came around after Pride, we always wanted to do something that was family-friendly but we were so exhausted that we never did anything.”

So, now that Sedillo and his husband live in the village of Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, that’s exactly the sort of event he puts on.

This year, it falls on Sunday, June 3. It includes a church service, a potato sack race, a performance by American Idol drag queen contestant Ada Vox paid for through crowdfunding, and—best of all—a tamale eating contest that has been running for all eight years of Los Ranchos Pride.

I did big for years, and I wanted to just do small

The event draws exponentially fewer attendees than Albuquerque Pride—about 300 to 400 people, according to Sedillo’s estimates—and the budget, too, is about two thousand dollars compared to a six-figure budget for the larger event.

“I did big for years, and I wanted to just do small,” Sedillo told The Daily Beast.

Sedillo almost doesn’t want more people to find out about Los Ranchos Pride, and has allowed the event to grow primarily through “word of mouth.”

“I am not doing any press,” he told The Daily Beast—exclusively, apparently—“No publications, no radio.”

The best Pride, it would seem, might be one that you don’t even know exists.