Steve Starkey is cautiously optimistic for the future of Pride in Madison. OutReach LGBT Community Center’s executive director is honest about the stress and uncertainty that unfolded for the organization over the last year, though. After a handful of loud protests from community members over the participation of uniformed police officers in the Pride march, OutReach’s board voted to disinvite law enforcement—in their official capacity—from the event.
That drew a firestorm of criticism and lead to a series of contentious arguments and discussions, including at a public meeting organized by MPD Pride, the Madison Police Department’s LGBTQ affinity group.
It also lead to several large donors withdrawing their support from OutReach, leaving their financial security very much in doubt. Starkey says that some new donors have since come on board, too, though it doesn’t make up for what was lost. He emphasizes his gratitude for the endowment left to OutReach by the estate of William Wartmann, too, though notes that they won’t have access to any of that money for another year at least. After that, the million dollar fund will be controlled and meted out by the Madison Community Foundation.
After the dust settled from Pride and the controversy around police presence at the event, community conversations about the issue have been ongoing. The main protest contingent eventually formed into a group called the Community Pride Coalition, which has since held a series of informational and training sessions around white privilege, racism in queer communities, and police, at OutReach’s facilities.
Starkey says that other organizations have also reached out with an interest to help in future efforts to bring the community together around the issues, including First United Methodist Church, Eldonna Hazen at First Congregational Church, and the board of OPEN.
OPEN attempted to facilitate a meeting between the Community Pride Coalition and MPD Pride, but the coalition demurred.
Meanwhile, the future of Pride is very much up in the air, as OutReach considers whether or not it can continue to carry the financial and logistical weight of organizing a parade. Instead, they’ve sought input on other ways to provide a more communal Pride event.
“People mentioned the old MAGIC picnics,” Starkey said. He emphasizes the opportunity such a picnic might provide for people to mingle and network, as opposed to parades, “where everyone shows up and marches with their group and then leaves.”
He admits that there would be plenty of people disappointed in the loss of a parade, including himself, but Starkey hopes to have OutReach still play a major role in organizing one kind of Pride activity or another. Mostly, he stresses his desire to see the debate strengthen the community instead of tearing it apart.
“I hope people don’t get so passionate about ‘police have to be in’ or ‘have to be out’ that it destroys the community.
“The silver lining of all of this,” Starkey went on, “is that it put the issue on more people’s radars than ever before. Folks who’ve felt left out and ignored are demanding to be noticed and to take part. I don’t necessarily agree with all the methods, but now everyone is talking about it. That sets up the real possibility of positive change.” —Emily Mills