PORTLAND – When the annual Southern Maine Pride Parade and Festival takes place on Saturday, it will mark 25 years since Portland played host to its first gay pride festivities. And a lot has changed during that time.

“Twenty-five years ago, it was much more political,” said Sid Tripp, who is coordinating this year’s entertainment. “They used to have political rallies in Monument Square, and then the parade. There were hardly any vendors.

“The trend now in (pride) festivals is not so much political. We’ve on purpose kept the politics out of it.”

The other major change is how big the event has become.

Back in 1986, roughly 200 people showed up for the event, according to Tripp. This year, organizers expect more than 5,000 people to watch the parade along Congress Street and participate in the festival that follows in Deering Oaks.

More than 40 groups have signed up to march in the parade, including businesses, churches and community groups. Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones and Police Chief James E. Craig will serve as this year’s parade marshals.

“Both of them reached out to us and said, ‘We want to be part of it,’ ” Tripp said.

This year’s theme is Alive with Pride at 25.

Once the parade — and its followers — makes it to the park, attendees will find more than 60 vendors handing out information, hawking T-shirts and selling food. In addition to vendors selling the expected festival fare of burgers and fries, pride partiers will find food from Northeast Ice Cream, Seng Chai Thai Cuisine and Spartan Grill.

Because gay rights and issues of equality have become much more mainstream than they were in the 1980s, Tripp said he made an effort to reach out to performers outside the gay community.

“We have a number of straight performers, such as Gypsy Tailwind, MeCa, Atomic Trash and Erin Cyr,” he said. “Usually in years past, they really relied on gay performers. I really wanted to integrate straight performers with gay performers so we can show the gay community we’re supported by the straight community.”

This year’s master of ceremonies is comedian Khris Francis, who is the resident funnyman at Mainestreet in Ogunquit this summer. Other performers include singer-songwriter Vanessa Torres, The Kristen Ford Band, drag kings G5, the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue and drag performers Miss JoAnn and Miss Samantha. All the performers are donating their time and talents to the event.

“Portland is rated as one of the top three gay-friendly cities in the U.S.,” Tripp said. “The city really bends over backwards for Pride, and it’s appreciated.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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