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Youngstown Pride sponsors first street fair downtown

Published: Sun, June 7, 2009 @ 12:06 a.m.

By Jeanne Starmack

It was a beautiful day for a street festival, and organizers were pleased with the turnout.

You probably won’t see anything like it on “Project Runway” — Maxine Factor’s bubble-wrap minidress, that is.

“I lost 40 pounds today,” Factor insisted, because of the tight-waisted duct-tape belt that held the dress together. It looked to be about eight inches wide.

Factor, who was at Pride Youngstown’s first street festival on Phelps Street downtown Saturday, never wobbled once on his four-inch black velvet heels.

Impressive. But not as impressive as his legs, which went up, up, up to the flouncy little bubble skirt. Black fishnet stockings adorned them, which aren’t really supposed to be worn during the afternoon, but you could forgive his faux pas.

He was at the festival for a good cause — to promote the Oakland Center for the Arts’ “Freakshow,” a fundraiser for the center Saturday night that featured “singing, dancing, comedy, and the spoken word,” according to its promotional leaflet.

Factor, who volunteers for the center and does a standup comedy act, would be performing in “Freakshow.” Because the center has supported Pride Youngstown, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, the organization was reciprocating by giving the Oakland a venue to promote its fundraiser, said Brooke Slanina, president of the center’s board.

Factor, who had donned his dress and heels in the morning, arriving at the festival at 10 a.m., expected to be in them until sometime after midnight. He would be appearing in the show in them, and he would be attending a vigil at midnight at the courthouse to listen to speeches against hate crimes, he said.

So though he wasn’t the only drag queen at the festival, he could maybe get credit for being the one with the most stamina.

He was also the only one who was bald, with a sparkling patch of glitter on his head that matched the luminous makeup around and behind his long, spider-leg eyelashes.

He and Slanina waited while a few fans popped some of his bubbles, then they wandered off to find something to eat from the food vendors who lined the street.

At the other end of Phelps, a stage was set up. About 100 people milled around, visiting vendors or listening to the entertainment lineup.

At a booth that sold tie-dyed clothes, Brian Wilson of New Castle took time out to reminisce about his days on the road as a Dead Head, when he and his wife, Leann, followed the Grateful Dead until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. He had been one of the first vendors to sign on to be in Pride Youngstown’s festival, he said — friends of his wife had told her about it.

He has a day job as a computer-support technician at a bank, he said, but he likes to sell the tie-dye the couple creates on weekends — mostly at music festivals. They take their 15- and 9-year-old sons with them, he said — it’s a business that’s more for fun than profit and a good way to get back a little bit of the life on the road that he loved, he said.

On the stage, Youngstown resident and former Mr. Gay Ohio Sterling Anderson was singing “You Raise Me Up.” People walked up during his performance and handed him dollar bills, which, he said later, is a way the gay community compensates performers who don’t get paid otherwise.

“I like to perform,” Anderson said, adding that he does so at other community events such as First Night Youngstown and the tree-lighting ceremony.

Five contestants vied for the title of Miss Gay Pride Youngstown. The winner was Brittany Cheers of Warren; runner up was Rubie Tuesday of Youngstown.

It was a beautiful day for the event, and co-organizers Carlos Rivera, Anita Davis and Kim Akins said they were pleased with the turnout — police estimated it at 800 people throughout the day from noon to 7 p.m.

The event was meant to counter negative stereotypes about gays and to make people aware of the gay community, said Davis.

Between 10 and 15 picketers protested when the festival opened, Akins said, and they were told that it was their right to do so.

“And we told them that ‘we have a first amendment right to picket at your church,’” Akins said, and the group soon left.

The organizers said they intend to have an even bigger festival next June that will include a parade.

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