Pride Month 2023 gets started early in Milwaukee – with the first day of PrideFest taking place on June 1st. The festival will run through Saturday, with the unaffiliated Milwaukee Pride Parade stepping off on Sunday.
PrideFest Executive Director Wes Shaver tells WTMJ the organization has made a concerted effort to connect with the local community – not just as festival-goers, but as participants in the festival.
“We’ve increased our local participation by about 45-50 percent by restructuring how we work with local DJ’s and local entertainers,” he said.
Shaver said PrideFest will also have an international flair – with Canadian artist Peaches, Australian artist Betty Who, and Welsh artist Bright Light Bright Light taking the stages at Henry Maier Festival Park. There will also be a magic and illusionist act coming to Milwaukee from Las Vegas’ Tropicana Hotel.
“We’re really excited about all of these really unique and eclectic entertainment opportunities this year,” Shaver said.
Unlike many Pride celebrations, which are held in city streets and public parks, Milwaukee PrideFest is able to take advantage of the existing infrastructure of the City of Festivals.
“That’s what makes it special from an experience standpoint,” Shaver said, pointing to the permanent stages and of course, the existing restrooms, as perks for attendees.
This is the 35th year of PrideFest and the 26th at Henry Maier Festival Park.
But Pride Month and PrideFest 2023 are coming at a time of major backlash against the LGBTQ+ community. Currently, there are 373 active anti-transgender bills in state legislatures across the United States, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker. 79 bills have already been passed, including regulations on bathroom use, sports participation, and healthcare restrictions.
Shaver said this is having a tangible effect on the community.
“Already marginalized people, already scared people within the community, are now feeling even more afraid to go out in public. They’re feeling more insecure about sharing public spaces,” he said.
At PrideFest, organizers are working to counteract this.
“We have a lot of dedicated programming that’s inclusive to trans folks and non-binary folks,” he said. “We want people to have validating and affirming spaces to be themselves.”
Given the current situation for LGBTQ+ folks in the country, which is impacting some Pride celebrations nationwide. Shaver made a call to the community and to allies in light of this.
“We need to more than ever be present at PrideFest, be present at the parade, and we need to be having tough conversations with people to break down the negative and false narrative that’s been created.”
But despite the serious undertones, Shaver is still excited for PrideFest to kick off this summer’s festivals.
“I like to call PrideFest a party with a purpose, because not only is the community coming together we’re celebrating having a great time, but we’re there to show all of these other wonderful resources services and options for people in the area to live a really healthy and happy life.”