Same but Different

Tucson has been home to a pride festival since 1977, and every year, it's been a little bit different, and a little bit the same.

This year, the entertainment will be largely the same (which is good). That is, many—or even most—performers in the lineup have played at the festival before, including Flagstaff rock band Whiskey Rodeo, Los Angeles crooner Jennifer Corday, and highly acclaimed Austin hip-hop/soul/pop duo God-Des and She.

You may be familiar with many of the local performers (though they haven't all performed at the festival before), from Boys R Us to The Human Project to burlesque-troupe Switchblade Parade. (Although you might have seen these groups before, says Karon Bohlender, president of the board of Tucson Pride, "It's a rare treat to have them all together.")

On the different side: This year's Pride in the Desert lineup features plenty of talent you've likely never seen—including the headliner, Dario. This up-and-coming pop singer, who has opened for famous R&B acts like Ashanti and Destiny's Child, was actually born in Tucson and tends to be a big hit with LGBT folks across the nation.

As far as activities and exhibitors go, this year's Pride in the Desert will resemble last year's, with booths for commercial and nonprofit organizations, a food court, and interactive displays and activities for all ages. Unlike past festivals, the event will commemorate the 30 years since the HIV/AIDS virus was discovered, showcasing panels from the local AIDS quilt and the AIDS Ribbon Tucson.

Some "new" activities are actually old favorites that weren't offered last year, including the Dance Tent, where you can get your groove on out of the sun, and the Drag Tent, where you can watch drag performances by entertaining female impersonators from Tucson and beyond.

Hosting the event from the Main Stage will be Shannel, from the TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, and one of Tucson's own favorite drag queens, Bunny Fu Fu.

Probably the most-different thing about this year's festival is that, instead of being held at a park (Reid Park in recent years, and Himmel Park before that), Pride in the Desert will take place in a baseball stadium.

"We felt disjointed at Reid Park," says Karon Bohlender. "We wanted to have a special space where the community can be one—physically and spiritually. We wanted to find a place that would allow us to grow."

Bohlender feels it's especially important for Tucson to come together this year, considering all the city has been through—especially the shooting in January that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

It's the same sentiment felt by those at the very first Tucson pride festival in 1977, when Tucson came together in protest and mourning after Richard Heakin was killed downtown in a hate crime.

"We're a very tight-knit community, the blue in a red state," says Bohlender. "... This festival is about being able to be who you are in a safe environment—whether you're gay, straight, bi, trans or questioning."

If you think about it, this year's theme—"people respecting individuality, diversity and equality"—goes well with the festival's different-but-the-same vibe. That is, we can celebrate transformation and individual differences, while still holding on to the values that bond us to each other on a fundamental—and timeless—level.

Or if you prefer, don't think about it too much. Just come to the festival and be yourself.

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