By Liz Massey, June 2016 Issue.
If there were awards given out to Pride festivals, Bisbee’s pride festival might well qualify in the “Small But Mighty” category.
Arizona’s mile-high town (nestled as it is at 5,000 feet above sea level) has a total population of only 5,000, but its cool June temperatures and its strong integration between the LGBTQ and ally communities create a near-perfect festival venue that literally involves all of downtown.
“Our pride festival becomes part of the Bisbee community – we’re not behind a fence,” said Kathy Sowden, owner of Finders Keepers antique shop in Bisbee and festival organizer since 2009. “I think it’s really freeing for attendees to be in a small town where they can be themselves.”
This year, Bisbee Pride will take place from June 17 to 19, with festival activities (many of which are free) spread throughout the town. The Lingerie Pub Crawl, which encourages participants to deck themselves out in their eveningwear, kicks the weekend off June 17. Later that evening, the celebration continues at the Half-Penny Variety Show and Dance Party or the Miners and Madames Dance Party.
Grassy Park will play host to an artist/vendor fair and a beer garden/day stage, which will feature performers from the Tucson community on June 18. As the sun sets, the Bisbee Pride Parade will hit the streets, followed by the Laugh Out Loud comedy show at City Park.
Festival goers can begin their recovery from a hectic weekend with the Twisted Sister Bingo and Bloody Mary Bar at the Grand Saloon.
Like a few other mountain towns in Arizona, Bisbee was a mining town salvaged by hippies and artists when the mines closed in 1974. Sowden said Pride attendees could pay homage to that part of the area’s past by dressing in costume for the Miners and Madames Dance Party, or by taking time to visit the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, which is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.
The entertainment line-up at the festival is diverse, ranging from the singer/rapper and “female drag queen” Wendy Ho (Wendy Jo Smith) and female impersonation superstar Sherry Vine to the Valley’s “gender outlaw” Pandora DeStrange and lesbian comic Sandra Valls. DJ Cue from Tucson will be serving up dance remixes at the beer garden event in Grassy Park and after the Laugh Out Loud comedy show.
Sowden said that festival organizers were hoping for an attendance of about 1,500. Many local merchants will offer specials or host Pride-related events in their establishments, giving a decidedly local flavor to the event.
“The whole downtown is all about Pride for the entire weekend,” Sowden said, adding that of the 80 sponsors of the event in 2015, more than three-quarters of them were area businesses.
That level of community involvement may very well be the secret ingredient that keeps attendees coming back, year after year.
Sowden, who has lived in Bisbee for 11 years, said although the town has no official gay bars, LGBTQ residents and visitors feel comfortable showing affection and being themselves, everywhere they go. It’s a dynamic that’s not gone unnoticed by Pride attendees, she said.
“We did a survey last year for the first time and asked people what they like about Pride,” Sowden explained. “More than 50 percent said ‘community,’ ‘town,’ or ‘acceptance.’ This is what every place should be like, but isn’t.”
For more information, including a full list of events, performers and prices, visit bisbeepride.com.
Lesbian comic Sandra Valls to take the Pride stage
Los Angeles-based Lesbian comic Sandra Valls (pictured) is heading to Bisbee for the mile-high town’s 12th annual Pride celebration.
Valls will also host a comedy workshop on LGBTQ comedy for Pride attendees from 1 to 3 p.m. June 18 at Brewery Gulch (34A Brewery Ave.). Later that day, she will take the stage at Laugh Out Loud – a queer comedy event hosted by Sherry Vine and featuring appearances by Wendy Ho and Pandora DeStrange – at 8 p.m. at City Park.
“Bisbee is an amazing community and I can’t wait to visit,” Valls said, adding that she was impressed with the drive and spirit of the Bisbee Pride organizers. “It’s not about the size of the Pride, but the energy of the people in charge of it.”
According to Valls, her act focuses the humor of her day-to-day life as a lesbian Latina in a white, straight world. With a background as an R&B singer, Valls also loves to interweave music and comedy in her acts.
Valls’ trademark is her record of giving back by volunteering and producing comedy shows for various causes including benefits/fundraisers for AIDS, sobriety/recovery, domestic violence and LGBTQ equality.
Even in an era of increasing mainstream acceptance, Valls noted that there still is a purpose and a need for LGBTQ-themed humor.
“Everyone needs to be able to laugh at themselves. Laughter heals,” she asserted. “It’s particularly important to have LGBTQ humor because we are inundated with ‘straight’ humor all the time.”
Laugh Out Loud starts at 8 p.m. and admission is $20 at the door. For more information, visit bisbeepride.com.