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In city 'crack down,' drinking at Pride to be limited to fenced-in areas

The consumption of alcohol at this year's Baltimore Pride festivities will be confined to two designated beer gardens within the larger event footprint, organizers said Thursday.

"City officials are trying to crack down on alcohol consumption," said Kelly Neel, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, or GLCCB, which organizes the events. "They told us we had to fence in the entire perimeter of everything and have it manned by police, or have the beer gardens, which was their preference."

Officials at the GLCCB decided the beer gardens would indeed be preferable to fencing off the entire festival area, Neel said, so the group is implementing that plan.

Acting Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, a police spokesman, said police event coordinators are in communication with GLCCB organizers but that he could not immediately comment on the new alcohol policies.

The two gardens will be adjacent to the events' two stages; will be free to enter with proof of age; and will sell food and beer, liquor and other alcoholic beverages, Neel said.

Alcohol won't be allowed anywhere else at the outdoor events, though food vendors will be stationed throughout.

The move brings Maryland's largest LGBT celebration closer in line with similar pride festivals in other major cities across the country, including neighboring Washington, D.C.

It also is another departure from tradition this year for Baltimore's signature gay weekend, which will take place June 14 and 15 in the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood, in a location many associate with Artscape. In the past, the Saturday parade and block party were held in the heart of Mount Vernon, further south along North Charles Street, while the Sunday festival was held in Druid Hill Park.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in a statement that the mayor "wants Baltimore to remain a very vibrant and welcoming place for all residents, especially the LGBT community," and the new Pride drinking policy will serve that goal.

"Some residents expressed concerns about alcohol consumption surrounding the pride parade and festivities, so this is an effort to simply remind people of what the law already states. Drinking has to be confined to a specific area, through either a fence or a beer garden," Harris said.

Harris said the mayor's goal is to allow Pride attendees "to have a good time as safely as possible while following the law."

GLCCB officials said the location change was made in part to make Saturday events, known for being party-centric, and Sunday events, known for being family-centric, more inviting for everyone.

To that end, the segregated beer gardens will be a good thing, Neel said, even if the decision "might turn some heads" among younger attendees who enjoyed the open-air drinking atmosphere of past block parties.

"People might be upset, but it's just a logistical decision," she said.

"Pride isn't necessarily about going out and getting drunk. That isn't what it was originally intended to be," said Dan McEvily, a GLCCB spokesman. "We don't want to make it so much like a drunken free-for-all, not that it was in the past."

People have been arguing for years about whether or not the Pride festivities have gotten out of control.

In the past, some Mount Vernon residents and business owners have complained about underaged people being served alcohol and the streets of their neighborhood becoming outdoor party areas covered in trash. Others have defended the event and its organizers, saying unruly people drinking in adjacent parking lots are not the responsibility of the GLCCB.

Neel said regardless of past years, this year will be less hectic simply because there will be more space for large crowds, more space for vendors, and better public transportation access.

Neel said one of the beer gardens will be in Pearlstone Park near the Mount Royal Light Rail Station. The second will be along Mount Royal Avenue between North Charles Street and Maryland Avenue.

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