Organizers expect up to 500,000 people to come to Columbus this weekend for the 37th annual Columbus Pride Festival and Parade, one of the largest such events in the Midwest.
The festival portion of Pride starts Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and runs until 11 p.m. at Bicentennial and Genoa Parks in downtown Columbus. It resumes Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The parade starts Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the intersection of Goodale and High Streets in the Short North.
Instead of a grand marshal, this year’s parade will be led by volunteers with The Harmony Project, a Columbus-based organization that works to bridge social divides through the arts, education and volunteer community services.
There are political overtones to this year’s parade after four protesters were arrested while blocking last year’s Pride parade. The division between Pride organizer Stonewall Columbus and the group Black, Queer & Intersectional Columbus eventually led to the creation of another LGBTQ event, the Columbus Community Pride Festival. It’s scheduled for Saturday at Mayme Moore Park on Mount Vernon Avenue.
Despite the conflict, Stonewall Columbus’ interim executive director Deb Steele says many people are ready to just let loose and party this weekend.
“Our community knows how to throw a good party,” Steele said on WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher. “And it’s so important because some folks who come to Pride, (it’s) their only day out of the year or weekend out of the year, let’s say if they’re coming from a small town or something like that, that they can fully celebrate who they are.”
The Columbus Division of Police plans to increase security around this year’s festival, but Chief Kim Jacobs did not say how many officers will be in attendance. She says both uniformed and plain-clothed officers will be at Pride through the weekend.
Jacobs said officers will not attend the Black, Queer & Intersectional Festival as long as there are no complaints.
Also in town this weekend: Vice President Mike Pence. A large crowd of protesters is expected to greet him at the Columbus Renaissance hotel with a "big LGBTQ dance party," shutting down Gay Street from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.