After half a decade of being juggled by a handful of groups, this year’s Knoxville PrideFest landed in the lap of the newly formed East Tennessee Equality Council, an organization created specifically to focus on social events for the GLBT community in Knoxville.
Todd Cramer, ETEC’s president and a fixture in PrideFest since 2006, says he is thrilled that the creation of this new group, which was incorporated barely a month before the event, triggered PrideFest’s most successful year in recent memory.
“This was the only time that I've done it that we haven't received a single complaint. That feels good,” he said.
Cramer attributes PrideFest’s triumph to a heightened degree of organization and a dedicated band of volunteers, including ETEC’s eight other board members. Executive board members Carla Lewis, Ben Byers and Katherine Wheats played an especially important role in the festival’s success, Cramer said.
“That is by far the biggest difference: being able to rely on other people,” he said. “None of us are paid. Every one of us donates our time and a lot of our resources to make this happen.”
Byers, who handled the organization of the festival itself, excluding the live entertainment, thinks the new structure he and his fellow board members put in place will enable them to branch out in the future, adding extra elements to PrideFest in years to come.
Lewis, ETEC’s secretary and the chief force behind PrideFest’s website and Facebook page, echoed Byers' sentiments.
In the past, when PrideFest was handed back and forth between a few GLBT-oriented groups from year to year, she said it was like “starting from scratch” each year. Lewis is hopeful that the incorporation of ETEC will provide PrideFest with an unprecedented level of consistency and open the door to more social events throughout the year.
“There's no reason the people in the community should wait for one day a year to get together,” she said.
Cramer agrees, and is determined that ETEC not cool its heels in the wake of its first PrideFest success. Instead, he said, the group is looking into organizing social activities throughout the year, with the goal of creating a comfortable environment for GLBT Knoxvillians to feel accepted and safe.
While no events are sure bets at present, Lewis plans to use the website to spread word of them as they come together.
If more activity on the social spectrum is the immediate goal, the long-term goal is for a Knoxville that is aware and supportive of its GLBT inhabitants.
“The main purpose of the group is to provide awareness to the greater community of who we are as GLBT citizens and what we deserve,” Cramer said.
Cramer hopes that this awareness will grease the wheels of political change, which seem slow in the face of high-profile issues like the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ or marriage rights.
“More people means more conversion, more opportunities to be out there as a community to change minds, and change votes, eventually,” he said. “That's why it's important to continue having the social side of Pride: using the excitement and the community feel and the pride that surrounds these large events to make a difference in the political arena.”
While it could take years for ETEC’s socially oriented work to translate into political change, its board members, and Knoxville’s GLBT community seem pleased with enjoying the little victories along the way.
“When I was walking through the crowd and I saw people holding hands and smiling, I knew that — even if it a just for four hours — they were experiencing the same amount of equality that most Americans experience every day,” Lewis said.