Today’s guests may find it hard to imagine PrideFest any other way. Believe it or not, the earliest PrideFests were more informal events held in a procession of open spaces, including Mitchell, Juneau and Veteran’s Parks. Attendance — and visitor expectations — grew faster than these parks could accommodate.
PrideFest needed a permanent home. On November 9, 1995, the Milwaukee World Festival Board of Directors unanimously voted to approve the rental of Henry W. Maier Festival Park to PrideFest Inc. The Wisconsin Light ran a massive front page headline reading, “Summerfest Grounds Here We Come.”
The 1996 theme, “Carry the Torch,” would symbolize the movement of Pridefest from one location to another with a five-colored flame representing the five year anniversary of the PrideFest format and the 1996 Olympic Games. Organizers promised to “light up the sky with pride” as PrideFest celebrated its second year as the only LGBT+ festival in America with its own fireworks show.
PrideFest had finally joined the constellation of Milwaukee’s lakefront summer festivals. PrideFest 2016 will commemorate the 20th anniversary of this milestone moment in our organizational history.
The Wisconsin GLBT History Project is a self-funded, community-driven project devoted to documenting the evolving face of local gay and lesbian life. We are honored to be affiliated with this important and irreplaceable historical initiative.