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PrideFest, last in Huntington, draws big crowd for LGBT celebration

People enjoy the 26th annual Long Island PrideFest

People enjoy the 26th annual Long Island PrideFest at Heckscher Park in Huntington on Saturday, June 11, 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Thousands of people gathered at Huntington’s Heckscher Park on Saturday for a festival celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride.

For the first time in the 26-year history of LGBT pride events on Long Island, however, there was no parade. A “visibility walk” to take place Sunday, organized in protest of the parade cancellation, revealed divisions among LGBT activists.

The organizer of PrideFest, LGBT Network, canceled the parade that traditionally preceded the festival, saying too much money and volunteer time was being spent to organize and ensure security for an event that in recent years attracted far fewer people than the festival.

Erinn Furey, co-founder of the LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition, which is organizing Sunday’s walk in Sayville, said a festival confined to a park was less community-focused than a parade down a public street, and it didn’t address issues such as the lack of laws in Nassau County and New York State to prohibit job, housing and other discrimination against transgender people. Suffolk County has such a law.

“The goal of a parade is visibility and affirmation and validation,” Furey said. “The goal of a festival is a party and good time.”

Connie Hellgren, 35, of Farmingdale, said parades were central to LGBT pride events.

“It’s just historical as far as the LGBT civil rights movement,” she said, alluding to how LGBT pride events have their root in a 1970 Manhattan march commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots, considered the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement. “It’s been an integral part of the movement.”

MaryLynn Madison of Bay Shore said she wouldn’t have attended the parade this year if it had been held. A festival is more relaxed than a parade, with places to sit, mingle and listen to music, she said.

“I think a celebration is the point of it, and this is a celebration,” Madison said.

Attendees danced to Black Box and 10,000 Maniacs, waved LGBT rainbow flags, lay on rainbow towels and strolled among booths for churches, nonprofits, insurance companies and banks.

Deborah Mitola, 55, of Holbrook, said LGBT people had made big strides since the first local pride event in 1991, when organizers had to go to court for the right to march in Huntington.

“We always celebrate the progress,” including the right to marry, Mitola said. “And we hang out, have fun and meet people we haven’t talked to in a long time.”

LGBT Network is expanding PrideFest to three days in 2017 and moving it along with a revived parade to Long Beach.

Kerrie Militello, 21, of West Babylon, said the move and expansion could attract more Long Islanders and “give people more opportunities to go”

But Bill Huckaby, 67, of Great River, blasted the move and said he wouldn’t trek to Long Beach next year. Huntington, he said, is more centrally located.

“It’s too far,” he said of Long Beach. “They say you can go to the beach, but you have to pay to go on to the beach.”

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