Marchers take to the street in the 2018 grand parade.
For the first time in Pride St. Louis history, a community, rather than an individual, has been chosen as the 2019 parade grand marshal: the Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG) and the St. Louis metro transgender and non-binary community.
The 2019 Mastercard Grand Pride Parade takes place June 30 at noon. The unprecedented grand marshal selection comes even as Pride St. Louis celebrates its fortieth anniversary and the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
The Metro Trans Umbrella Group is a local non-profit organization that primarily serves the St. Louis metro area. The organization currently serves the metro transgender and non-binary communities through ongoing support groups, food assistance programs, name change workshops, Alix’s Closet free clothing program, Trans 101 training, town hall meetings, therapy and medical resources, QTPOC:STL, the Transgender Memorial Garden, a Trans A.M. monthly podcast, an annual 24-hour telethon, and a Transgender Spectrum Conference with Washington University.
Sayer Johnson, executive director of MTUG, proudly accepted the grand marshal honor on behalf of the community Monday in a week that's seen the murders of three transgender women across the nation. While these tragedies brought fear to some, who wondered if they might be next, they also fueled anger, hurt and feelings of invisibility. The parade honors are one way of keeping the trans and non-binary community front and center.
The Grand Pride Parade has always been the way the community fires up for the entertainment during Sunday's festivities, and 2019 is slated to be the biggest procession yet. Parade coordinator and Pride St. Louis board member Jolene Gosha — who previously volunteered on the parade team and took over the parade in 2018 — has confirmed that to date, there have been more parade entries received for this year’s event than last year at this time, and interest isn’t slowing down.
That wasn’t always the case. While the festival itself earned good attendance numbers and festivalgoers had responded positively to the move downtown, the parade had seen a decline in entrant participation. Local LGBTQIA bars and businesses who had previously had floats or walking groups in the parade no longer supported the event.
Audiences had noted the change, and Pride St. Louis listened. In 2018, the organization began a Grand Parade overhaul.
Step one was to get the floats back on the street. Organizers began by convincing those who feared they had to break the bank to do it that they truly could “Build a Float on a Budget,” enlisting the winningest entrants from previous PrideFest parades to show how it’s done. Chad Carroll and Terry Laupp, founders and designers of the St. Louis Balloon Brigade, and Terry Willits, float designer/builder for Loading Zone and Novak’s Bar & Grill, hosted two well-attended workshops at the Pride Center.
In 2018, those watching from behind the fences saw first-time floats from PFLAG St. Charles and PROMO Missouri. The St. Louis Library and women’s curling teams participated in the parade for the first time ever mixed in between fan favorites Band Together and Growing American Youth. There were more faces, more businesses, more rainbows, more music, glitter, and, yes, even more balloons!
And it was all a lead into this year’s event. In preparation for the 2019 Grand Parade, rather than relying on a team of volunteers solely on the day of the event, Gosha has been working for months with an all-volunteer committee to make sure no detail is overlooked. The 2019 MasterCard Grand Pride Parade will be filled with music, drag queen and king royalty, bands, walking groups, smiling people waving from topless cars, festively decorative floats, rainbows, glitter, even more balloons than last year — all led by our local transgender sisters and brothers.
Terry Willits is an international mixed media artist, writer, LGBTQ advocate, coffee snob, dog dad and FTM transgender — but not necessarily in that order — and he practices what he posts. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he now does the art thing in St. Louis. Read more at www.thewritetrans.com.
The 2019 St. Louis Pride parade should be even bigger than the 2018 version.