Denise Northway (left) came out to Pride this year from West Allis, where she’s an active member of American Legion Post 18 and Veterans for Diversity. Northway, 55, helped post the colors at the opening ceremonies and will be assisting with Saturday’s parade.
This Pride is particularly significant for her because her daughter and granddaughter came out in the last year. She’s here with fellow Veterans for Diversity member Willie Larks (34), whose mantra for pride is: “Be free, be happy, be understanding, be empathetic.”
For Beth Lehman (standing) and her wife, Cori (center), the excitement of PrideFest’s live music and performances pales in comparison to the pure joy of teaching their children that they will always be supported and loved, no matter what.
“We want them to see that diversity is okay; love is love,” said Beth. Both she and her children are first-time PrideFest attendees. The couple’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth (second from left), danced gleefully to the music from a nearby stage, her bobbing pigtails and waving flag an exclamation point at the end of her mother’s sentence. “We’re just here to have a good time.”
Eileen Nelson was standing at the main entrance with a big sign: “FREE HUGS.” Her shirt advertised a similar message: “Free Mom Hugs,” with the “O” in “mom” replaced with a rainbow heart.
“A lot of people need hugs,” she explained. Nelson, 54, is an ally parent, someone who people can reach out to for support. While people at PrideFest have given out free hugs before, she said this is the first formal year for the Free Mom Hugs organization. The group is “a tribe of people, all wanting to give love,” Nelson said.
“I know the world is evolving, but we’ve got a long way to go,” she said, adding that Milwaukee itself has come a long way. Nelson, at her third PrideFest and second year as a volunteer, summed up her philosophy in one short sentence: “I love everybody.”
Tyler Winslow, better known as “DJ Tylex” or just “Tylex,” is approaching the biggest gig he’s ever done as a DJ. After attending PrideFest for the past 9 years, he’s scheduled to DJ the noon show at the Dance Pavilion on Saturday.
Winslow, 28, said he loves getting a crowd going and creating a positive atmosphere for people. A self-proclaimed “huge fan” of electronic dance music, he said he listens to music all the time.
He’s all about peace, love, unity and respect — or PLUR, a term used to remind the rave community about love, he said. Winslow did the four-step “PLUR handshake” with me to give me one of his multicolored bracelets after we talked.
“I’ve been coming to Pride since before there was Pride,” says Scott Orozco Katafias, 57. Draped in his poncho from Oaxaca, Orozco Katafias is at this year’s PrideFest with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church.
His first Pride events were in Juneau Park, when he was taken 18 years ago by Reverend Lewis Broyles, a pastor at the MCC and an active ally of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ community who was a member of the Milwaukee PrideFest Task Force. He’s come to the event every year since.
Mitzie Schlueter, 42, brought her children to this year’s PrideFest because she wants them to be open-minded. “We’re a pretty open family,” she says. “I want them to see the world and know that people aren’t supposed to look a certain way.”
Mitzie says they also love the merch and that they do a lot of shopping while at Pridefest. For the Schlueters, understanding and empathy don’t land far from home: Mitzie identifies as lesbian and her son, Jaxson, is transgender.
Laura Ciske was finishing up a late afternoon snack by the lake. She came with her cousin for her first PrideFest after coming out last year. Friday’s PrideFest activities marked the first public event she’s been to in Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I just got here, but already I feel so welcome,” Ciske, 26, said. “Seeing everyone express themselves is amazing.”
Friends Ethan White, 18, and Taylor “Marie” Andrist, 17, both spoke about enjoying the company of other LGBTQ+ people at PrideFest.
“We get to celebrate the community here,” White said. He said that while he had an easy experience coming out, not everyone does, and coming to PrideFest is a way of showing support.
Andrist’s outfit — fishnet stockings, white socks, a bra with two rainbows on it, loose overalls and a rainbow flag — has been coming together for a year. “I get to be who I want to be here,” she said.
Gia (right) and her aunt, Holly (left), are first-time PrideFest attendees, and they are thrilled by the experience they’ve had so far.
“I love observing people be comfortable with their identity and getting out of my comfort zone,” Holly commented, emphasizing the importance of being true to yourself. She joked about how she was in the same year of university as her 19-year-old niece; there’s no expiration date to self-discovery or living out your dreams.
Chris Hannah was in their early twenties when they first attended PrideFest. Now 27, Hannah says they are more confident in their identity as queer.
“For the longest time, I thought I couldn’t be attracted to men and women,” Hannah said.
Hannah is a security volunteer for PrideFest. Their favorite part of PrideFest is seeing all of the different people.
Though they may seem like old acquaintances in this picture, Natalia (left) and Keenen (right) had never met until this moment; Keenen leapt over to join the photo by pure chance, the two hugging without hesitation.
Both are attending PrideFest for their second consecutive year, and both gave similar reasons for attending. “I don’t like feeling ashamed,” Natalia said. “I like being around people who are the same as me.” Greeting strangers like close friends, Natalia and Keenen exemplify the spirit of Pride.
For Quentin, 16, and Yasmin, 15, PrideFest means dancing: letting loose and being completely themselves with their friends and family. They are second-time festival attendees, returning to celebrate the anniversary of their friendship.
These Fond du Lac high school students crossed paths at the festival last year and have been fast friends ever since. “Whoosh!” Quentin exclaimed, abruptly throwing his hands to the sky, parasol spinning. “I don’t know how else to put [our friendship] into words.”