LGBT Center sees opportunity in Pride festival challenge

Taking charge of the Gay Pride festival this year is harrowing, exhausting and wonderful, according to Shannon Thomas, executive director of the Seattle Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center.

Thomas said that stepping in and taking responsibility for the Gay Pride festival when Seattle Out and Proud decided not to do it this year is one of the best things that has happened for the center.

"We're looking at this as a way to really galvanize the community," Thomas said. "We hope the community is moving from a cynical standpoint to a hopeful standpoint."

Last year SOaP held a three-day festival at Seattle Center, in conjunction with the Gay Pride Parade, that left the group with unpaid debts of $100,000. She said taking responsibility for this year's festival is not an antagonistic act or an insult to SOaP, though some people want to make it that. She intends to work collaboratively with anyone interested in the event.

"The center is excited to be able to offer our communities the opportunity for a fantastic Pride celebration," Thomas said in a press release. "This has been a roller-coaster ride, and now the festival will have a community-based organization at the helm."

Thomas said the center is focused on producing the festival, using the experience producing the Queerfest last year and the planning for this year's event.

"This is not about us and them," Thomas said. "We want to create an organization to look out for community interests. Transparency is the key to the whole effort."

The center acts as an umbrella agency for 22 fiscal projects. What that means is that it allows small groups too small to effectively go through the paperwork to be a federal tax-exempt, non-profit organization to use the center's non-profit status. As a non-profit, what the organization does must be open to the public, which is just the way Thomas wants it.

The LGBT center is not just there for individuals; it is there for groups of individuals, and the entire community. Thomas said it is a particularly high-profile event, and gives the public a solid idea of what the center does. The center is to provide opportunities and tools for LGBT individuals, organizations and communities that ensure their voices can be heard, included and affirmed; to be a place to engage, organize and effect change.

"Pride is a perfect example of the community coming to us with a need," Thomas said. "Picking up the Pride torch fits perfectly with our mission."

Plans for the June 23 and 24 festival include musical and spoken-word entertainment, burlesque, a rally, vendor booths and lots of food. More specific details are still in planning.

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