April 18-24, 2002
PrideFest America will bring excitement, enlightenment and, of course, rainbow flags to Philadelphia in the next few weeks, with its mixed bag of entertainment, panel discussions, parties and award ceremonies. This year’s festival marks the 10th anniversary of the largest celebration and symposium for the lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. What began in 1993 as a festival that reached out mostly to a regional community and lasted only three days has, over the years, expanded nationally and, now, internationally into a weeklong extravaganza.
"When the festival started, we looked to just get into year two," says Malcolm Lazin, the executive director and founder of PrideFest America. Now the festival is the largest LGBT festival in the nation, with more than 50 regional, national and international organizations participating and nearly 60 programs and social events. "There is no other event like it worldwide," says Lazin.
Though one of the main goals of the 2002 festival is to expand the gay-and-lesbian civil rights movement to an international level -- one of the largest events of this year’s festival is the South African panel discussion, “Living in a Rainbow Nation” -- PrideFest will honor two national heroes of the LGBT community on its opening night. Detective Francis Coppola and Officer Carol Paukner, two openly gay NYPD officers, will be honored with awards at the VIP Kickoff Party, held in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall, for their participation in the rescue mission at ground zero of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Paukner, 37, an officer for the NYC Transit Department, was stationed in Rockaway the day that she got a call telling her that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Shortly after she received the call, and before the second building was hit, she arrived on the scene to begin evacuation of the two buildings. At first, says Paukner, "I couldn't get up to the buildings because too many people were running [away from the towers]." She recalls that others around her had fear in their eyes and some were screaming. With a sound she she says she will never forget, the second plane hit, and Paukner was thrown against a wall when the jet fuel of the second plane exploded in an elevator shaft. Though she was injured during the explosion, Paukner continued to evacuate others from the buildings and remained there most of the day. Since Sept. 11 she's received extensive surgery on her shoulder (her rotator cuff was damaged during the explosion) and she maintains a damaged knee, burnt corneas and a chronic cough. Paukner, who says she still can't believe she survived the tragedy, says she feels like she "has a new lease on life" and wants to "make the most of every day." With help from family, friends and her life partner, Geralyn Garcia, she carries on. "[Sept. 11] has affected America," she says. "Everybody knows someone who's been there. Everybody's been affected. Everyday in New York, we're living the ramifications of [that day]."
Coppola, a member of the NYPD for 15 years, was working in front of the NYC courthouse when he saw a low-flying aircraft heading toward lower Manhattan. He says he heard the plane's impact as it crashed into Tower 1 and ran to the building from his station to immediately take action with other officers and evacuate the buildings. Coppola's partner, a New York City firefighter who was not yet out to the force, was also called to the scene. They met inside the south tower and spoke briefly before they were both swept back to the rescue mission. But before leaving Coppola to assist in evacuating the north tower, his partner called to him and said, "I love you." Coppola used sign language to say "I love you" in response before leaving the building to take a woman outside to an ambulance. His partner's life ended when the second building collapsed, but Coppola says he's glad he could profess his love to him one last time. In light of the award he will receive on PrideFest's opening night, Coppola says, "I think it's a great honor for them to think of me, but I'm not a hero. The heroes were the ones that gave their lives."
Though the City Hall award ceremonies on opening night will be a highlighted event of the festival, the 10th anniversary of PrideFest promises a full eclectic week of events to get excited about.
Also on PrideFest's opening night, the Prince Music Theater will host Gay Life During War Times, a panel discussion combing the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy as it relates to the Afghan conflict; the event will be moderated by Sharra Greer of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
On April 30, the Prince will also host the "National Family Values Panel" and the discussion "Race Relations in the GLBT Community." The former, moderated by the Family Pride Coalition's Aimee Gelnaw, will explore the ways gay couples have become parents. The latter, moderated by Michael Williams, deputy director of Community Legal Services, will cover stereotypes in a diverse but not always tolerant community.
PrideFest's pinnacle event, the panel discussion "Living in a Rainbow Nation: Gay and Lesbian Dynamics in South Africa," will take place May 2, at the Prince and will feature four major South African leaders of the LGBT community. Donna Smith, co-chair of South Africa's Lesbian and Gay Pride, will moderate a dialogue on contemporary issues for gay black and white South Africans, such as apartheid, constitutional protection and AIDS in South Africa.
On May 3, at the Kimmel Center, PrideFest will recognize MTV with the Tom Stoddard national role model award for its distinguished contributions to social change in the LGBT community. An after-party will be held at the Shampoo nightclub.
The Philadelphia Art Alliance's Tseng Kwong Chi exhibition will be shown until the end of the festival. The show is the largest display of Tseng's photography and features work from his East Meets West series, Party of the Year, The Gang's All Here and his collaborations with Keith Haring and Bill T. Jones.
For information on PrideFest programs, events, gatherings and, of course, parties, check out its website at www.pridefestamerica.com or call 215-732-FEST.