In 1984, Kansas City's Gay Pride Festival was little more than a halfhearted little carnival set up in the parking lot behind the since-razed Dover Fox saloon, at 43rd Street and Main. Over the past 29 years, the event has gotten much bigger, much grander - with the occasional financial scandal here and there.
This year, after a 2012 turn in the Power & Light District, the Gay Pride Festival is "scaling down, going back to basics," says the festival's chairman, Mason Hakes. Instead of a lavishly mounted production featuring nationally known performers, this year's Pride Festival returns to Westport on May 31 and June 1 and has booked only local performers, organized by Kansas City drag queen Moltyn Decadence.
It could be a long, long show: "NO ONE will be turned away that wants to showcase their talents," writes Ms. Decadence on the Facebook page for the Kansas City Diversity Coalition, the new organization sponsoring the event.
"Well, it can't be that long," Hakes says. "We do have time limits for the stage. But there will be a lot of different things happening on this year's stage. We have a young man who wants to give a speech, for example. And, yes, the local bar performers will be putting on their own productions."
Last October, the organization that used to produce the annual gay-pride celebration, Show Me Pride LLC, merged with the nonprofit Kansas City Lesbian & Gay Community Center. The union has yielded a new 501(c)3 organization, the KCDC. Naturally, it has already been criticized by Kansas City's gay community, some of whom say the coalition has waited until the last minute to publicize and promote its event.
"That's an accurate complaint," Hakes says. "But our organization had three months to produce a festival that usually takes a year to plan and put together. It's not an ideal situation. Our main concern was simply having a festival. That's why this year's version is scaled back and called 'Back to Basics.' It's not the biggest and the best festival, but we are having one."
Hakes adds that the change in leadership is why the KC Pride Festival's website hasn't been updated since 2012. "It's obsolete," he says, "and will be taken down next month." There's still a Kansas City Lesbian & Gay Community Center Web page, which also hasn't been updated in months. Hakes suggests that people interested in the festival stick with the coalition's Facebook page.
Hakes says the Power & Light festivals, in 2011 and 2012, were controversial. "A lot of people thought it was a great venue," he says, "but the politics of the Power & Light District wasn't popular within the community. They made a lot of promises to us that they didn't keep."
The Kansas City Gay Pride Festival has arranged to block off a section of Westport Road from 6 p.m. to midnight May 31, and from noon to 10 p.m. June 1. Admission is free.