No Parade to Rain On

What's happening with Tucson Pride?

For Tucsonan Kevin DeCook, the fact there isn't going to be a Pride parade to coincide with the Tucson Pride event on Saturday, Oct. 12 is a tragedy, but the former Tucson Pride board member said it's merely only one of a series of issues this year that's resulted in a troubling revolving door of board members and support that help put on the annual event.

"I know there are different points of view, but if you're going to put on a conventional Pride celebration the parade is an integral part of that. The parade is such a focal point. It's not just a good thing to do, but it brings the community out," DeCook said.

DeCook, a member of the board from December 2012 to March 2013 when he resigned, said he joined the board to give back to the community that supported him over the years. There have been more than 12 board members who've resigned from the organization the past nine months.

"It is one of the oldest Prides in the country and maybe that's why it's bringing so many people to tears, why there is so much emotion, passion and anger," he said.

DeCook said he was working very hard on the board and closely with April Moss, the current Tucson Pride president, and other board members, "which have all, but April, resigned."

He went in with the perception that this was a sinking ship, but salvageable, helping with fundraising, as well as the website and social media. He discovered that the minutes hadn't been updated for over a year and often fundraisers and events were done hastily without the needed planning to do them properly.

Folks aren't happy that Pride is being moved back to the Kino Stadium Complex rather than stay put at Armory Park, where it moved last year after what some considered a complete fail at the Kino Stadium Complex's baseball stadium in 2011 when the event was no longer able to remain at Reid Park. Other concerns is that Pride isn't a transparent organization - that board members or potential board members go into meetings asking financial questions only to be greeted as if they are pulling teeth.

"I think what's needed is new leadership. I do like April as a person, but I have serious doubts about her abilities to lead and also taking into consideration what the community as a whole wants and transparency as well," DeCook said.

DeCook contends that Pride may be close to death and that sponsorship opportunities have been compromised.

The Weekly talked to Tucson performer Ajia Simone, MC of last year's Pride at Armory Park, who said that for years local performers traditionally stepped in to help raise money at special events for Pride throughout the years donating their time and talent, even during Pride itself. Simone was finally paid last two years, albeit not her full fee, but was happy that many local performers were part of the entertainment at the city park.

"It's not that we've stopped doing benefits, but I'm not doing anything for free. You want me to perform you have to pay," he said, adding that this year local performers and others got upset because they kept asking the board for months what entertainment was being booked for Pride and they kept getting shut out. It was aggravating and didn't make Simone eager to be part of Pride again.

Craig Garver, a volunteer with Tucson Pride since 2003, served on the board for 2 ½ years, which ended in May when he resigned due to concerns about financial liability as problems with the organization grew.

A fellow board member, working on vendors, had secured grand marshal Stuart Milk from the Harvey Milk Foundation and also a project with San Francisco Pride to "twin" Tucson Pride, which would have provided Tucson Pride with $100,000 and much needed help, according to Garver. That board member resigned and Garver was told that plane tickets for the Tucson Pride board to SF Pride for a recognition were never picked up.

"To me, (this board member) held the key. Once she left, I realized there was no way this organization was going to be able to do this," Garver said.

"Basically we were at that point there's the $4,000 loan due to the former treasurer and a $16,000 on a credit card backed by the former president (and a tab with the City of Tucson for last year's security bill). We're looking at zero in the bank and then this offer came in from SF Pride. Without (that person) on the board it's now down to six to nine people trying to put on a $100,000 event with no money."

However, there's also the other side. Moss said most of what's being said in the Observer, the LGBT community newspaper and in the community is wrong and misleading. Yes, the debt exists, including $2,800 to the City of Tucson, but this year's Pride may end in the black for the first time in years.

First, there isn't going to be a parade because a board member in charge started working on it too late, not because of the money still owed to the city. Second, Moss said she wished Simone talked to her, because she had no idea any of that had taken place previously. Third, she believes the SF Pride possibility was never a done deal because no one from SF Pride ever returned calls

The Weekly called SF Pride for comment, but calls were not returned by press time.

Sitting with Kevin Wheeler, a new board member who is now serving as vice president, Moss said one of the issues is that most people don't understand what it takes to put on the event each year and the reality that it has to be done differently than years past.

The revolving door of board members and the loud grumbling of the community she said are based on power plays and personality clashes, nothing more.

"This is the first year, I've seen this much community presence at our board meetings," Moss said, referring to lack of transparency.

Wheeler said entertainment is set—both out-of-state and local, and he's worked hard at getting good deals from entertainers and talent agencies. The entertainment budget is now half of what is once was.

Allegations that another board members is emailing or leaving threats on Facebook pages of anyone who criticizes the board, Wheeler said he is taking those allegations seriously and looking into them.

On the parade, Moss said "Look we're not a large city. Our parade isn't several hours. It's several minutes. It's not worth it and it seemed like it wouldn't be worth planning at the last minute."

Instead, there's going to be what's called a Pride Ride, what Moss has seen done in small-city Prides in other parts of the country—motorcyclists, trucks, cars—meet up decked out in rainbow flags and more and ride in the morning from the Kino Sports Complex along a designated route.

Besides working on entertainment costs, Moss said there have been decisions made to specifically help the organization save money and have a more permanent home. At Armory Park, because Pride took over the entire park, the city didn't allow Pride to charge entrance fees. That hurt last year and it even hurt in donations.

While Milk signed on to be the parade grand marshal, he's still coming and being shared with other organizations from Bisbee to EON Youth at Wingspan.

"This is about community and I wish people understood that," Moss said, using Wheeler as an example. Wheeler came to her asking for volunteers to help with an International Gay Bowling Organization event in Tucson, she said she needed his people to help her with Tucson Pride.

"It was a very hard decision for us," Wheeler said about the parade. "But maybe Pride Ride is something we will continue to do into the future."

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