DE PERE - Green Bay and northeastern Wisconsin's LGBTQ+ community said N.E.W. Pride 2023 could not come at a more important time.
The 14th annual gathering, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, takes over the Brown County Fairgrounds at a time when nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in the United States even though 80% of Americans support protections for LGBTQ+ people.
N.E.W. Pride is one of many affirming LGBTQ+ community spaces in the region and across the country tightening security detail in anticipation of a loud but small group of outside agitators.
The national climate might make it difficult to feel anything like pride, but that's exactly why events like N.E.W. Pride take place, said Reiko Ramos, anti-violence director at Diverse & Resilient in Appleton.
"Joy is a radical act when people are actively trying to silence us and legislate us out of existence .... The fact that we are out here living our best lives, that we're experiencing joy and community and belonging is just so powerful," said Ramos, who is also on the N.E.W. Pride board.
What to know if you go to N.E.W. Pride
N.E.W. Pride's event schedule splits into two days, with 21-and-older appropriate activities kicking off the weekend at 5 p.m. Friday.
Saturday's schedule begins at noon and includes drag shows and live music appropriate for all ages throughout the day and night. Organizers take steps every year to ensure all entertainment is suitable for anyone who attends.
N.E.W Pride will also host a drag show for up-and-coming performers on Saturday as it has for all of its 14-year history. The show provides young adult performers younger than 21, who are not able to enter bars that host many drag shows, the chance to gain experience. Organizers said any minors who perform have secured parental consent to do so.
Of note, LGBTQ+ youths have said drag shows offer joy and strength amid challenges, according to a national report from The Trevor Project.
Here's what to know about N.E.W. Pride:
N.E.W. Pride runs from 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday at the Brown County Fairgrounds, 1500 Fort Howard Ave., De Pere.
The festival is free both days, but donations are appreciated at the gate or online.
Parking is free.
The event will feature retail vendors, community groups, Vivent Health, food trucks, drinks, drag shows, live music and displays highlighting the history of northeastern Wisconsin's LGBTQ+ community.
Learn about and contribute to Green Bay, Appleton area LGBTQ+ history at N.E.W. Pride
For the second straight year, UW-Green Bay Archives staff will offer N.E.W. Pride attendees the chance to learn about LGBTQ+ history in northeastern Wisconsin and to contribute to the university’s growing collection of stories and artifacts.
Archives director Deb Anderson and professor Kimberly Reilly since 2019 have collected almost 50 interviews with LGBTQ+ residents as well as photographs, ephemera, videos, T-shirts, and other donations that highlight LGBTQ life in the Green Bay and Appleton areas.
The exhibit, "Our Voices," will trace LGBTQ+ local and national history from the 1950s through 2023, right up to the Green Bay area’s first-ever Pride Prom held earlier this year at the Tarlton Theatre in downtown Green Bay.
The exhibit also offers anyone and everyone the chance to share their most impactful or powerful snippet about LGBTQ+ life in the region. Anderson said visitors have relished the opportunity.
“Just share whatever it is you want to share,” Anderson said. “They can write something, draw something. Tell us your name or don’t. We’re seeing some powerful, small snippets of oral history.”
Events like N.E.W. Pride also generate some wonderful, spur-of-the-moment connections to LGBTQ+ bars or a church or community events.
“The stories that are coming, there’s a different breadth and depth to them,” Anderson said. She added: “It’s profound in both directions. Every day when I feel that or observe it, I feel like we’re making a difference.”
Tips for a safe, fun N.E.W. Pride
De Pere Police Officer Jeff Bradley, De Pere's community service officer, said N.E.W. Pride Alive is a "great event that always runs smoothly and efficiently year after year" and the event is welcome in the city "with open arms."
But disinformation spread on social media about the nature of the weekend activities has drawn concern. And hate-based violence, especially against LGBTQ+ people, continues to increase despite a high acceptance of LGBTQ+ community.
It's part of why N.E.W. Pride has chosen to ramp up security this year. Organizers will have private security and Brown County Sheriff's Office deputies inside the fairgrounds. De Pere Police Department officers will patrol the streets outside the venue.
Bradley said it's important to remain vigilant at events, especially when there's a large crowd and the potential for protests.
Ramos recommends you communicate your whereabouts to friends or family. And if you notice something suspicious, report it to N.E.W. Pride organizers or volunteers.
Still, it can be exhausting, as marginalized people, to always be the ones on guard against prejudicial violence, Ramos said. The onus, they continued, should be on those who actively do harm to look inward and educate themselves.
"Let's always look at the root cause of violence and where the violence is coming from. Ending violence is ultimately the responsibility of the people who are causing harm, and yet, this is the nature of the world that we live in," Ramos said. "We want our queer, trans people to move safely in public spaces."
Green Bay area LGBTQ+ events not immune to unwanted national attention
N.E.W. Pride each year endures targeted harassment campaigns from a variety LGBTQ+ hate groups, local legislators, and national and local social media personalities.
This year is no different. Groups have targeted the event's sponsors, hosts, elected leaders and others over the up-and-coming performers show, which has been part of N.E.W. Pride's schedule every year since it started.
N.E.W. Pride organizers remain aware of these tactics and have taken steps in response.
People protesting have a right to do so, and it's the responsibility of De Pere Police officers to keep both participants and protesters of the event safe, Bradley said.
"No matter what the event is, somebody's going protest these days, depending on what side of the fence you're on. We as law enforcement have to respect both the event and the people protesting it," Bradley said. "If they're not behaving in a lawful manner, we'll make sure to address that."
A majority of U.S. adults have never met a gender nonbinary person. Pride is about visibility.
Historically, Pride has represented personal political action — it wasn't a party, nor a sponsors-based parade, nor even a place to make straight people more comfortable about the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, said Michail Takach, board chair of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project and co-author of the book "A History of Milwaukee Drag."
Attending a Pride event, Takach said, meant stepping forward as a member of your community. And while Wisconsin may not have the same associations as, say, Christopher Street in New York where the Stonewall protests originated or the famous Castro District in San Francisco, Takach said Wisconsin has been a hub for LGBTQ+ liberation since at least 1961, when a little-known uprising at the gay bar Black Nite shook Milwaukee.
"Hatred comes from people who are visible and loud. Our approach, our call to action for the community has been to get out and be seen," Takach said. "This is not a time to be scared, hide or take a nap. This is a time to be active in the community and lead change in the spirit of Wisconsin's exceptional progressive heritage."
Martha M., a founder of the nonprofit Bay Area Council on Gender Diversity, said Pride events provide an opportunity for people to see for themselves, to talk to members of northeastern Wisconsin's LGBTQ+ community. When 80% of people haven't met a non-binary person, Martha said Pride is an opportunity to educate themselves, begin to build connections and break down prejudices.
"We're a diverse community with very different perspectives. Our hope is, through events like N.E.W. Pride, cisgender people can chat with us and realize we're just good people," Martha said.
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Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. She welcomes story tips and feedback. You can reach her at email@example.com or view her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert. If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text "Hopeline" to the National Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: N.E.W. Pride returns to Green Bay area to empower LGBTQ+ community