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Pride updates provided by GLCCB, new 2015 event chair

Paul Liller, 32, of Bolton Hill, has been named the volunteer chair of Baltimore Pride 2015 -- the 40th anniversary of the LGBT celebration.
Paul Liller, 32, of Bolton Hill, has been named the volunteer chair of Baltimore Pride 2015 -- the 40th anniversary of the LGBT celebration. (Photo by Kevin Rector)

Paul Liller knows there is "nothing glamorous, glorious or fun" about planning Baltimore Pride, the city's largest annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture.

Still, if the founders of the event could do it in a much more hostile environment 40 years ago, he said, it can certainly be done now -- even if relationships in the community were badly frayed amid confusion surrounding last summer's event.

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Liller, 32, of Bolton Hill, a server at Indochine and a former catering manager at Morgan State University, will serve as the volunteer chair of Baltimore Pride 2015 -- which also happens to be the event's 40th Anniversary celebration.

His experience includes serving as the event's entertainment chair in 2007 and 2008, and serving in 2008 and 2009 as the development director at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, or GLCCB, which runs Pride each year.

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Liller's appointment, as well as several updates on planning for the event, were announced at a "town hall" meeting hosted Friday night by the LGBT mental health advocacy organization Hearts and Ears.

The event was billed as an opportunity for members of the community to engage with the leadership of the GLCCB. About 25 people attended, including new GLCCB executive director Joel Tinsley-Hall, who is six weeks on the job, and former executive director Kelly Neel.

As has been the case at almost every GLCCB event for months, there was a perceptible tension in the room. But there was also a dialogue, brainstorming and a seemingly healthy exchange of ideas -- not to mention a few qualms.

For one, the GLCCB is considering moving Pride again, after last year's event shifted the schedule from one day in Mount Vernon and one day in Druid Hill Park to two days in the area familiar to people as the footprint for Artscape. No new location was identified.

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However, the location and the date of next year's Pride -- also a contentious issue in 2014 -- will be announced at an "Ugly Sweater" holiday event next month. Additional pieces of key information will be released on a monthly basis, at other themed events, Liller said.

Tinsley-Hall said he also wants Pride next summer to be more of a platform for nonprofits and other organizations in the community.

"The party is great, the entertainment is great, but where is the advocacy part? Where is the education part?" he asked.

Attendees urged the organizers to do away with the "beer gardens" seen last year and make Pride an open-air drinking event again. Short of that, they said, the GLCCB should at least make the beer gardens comfortable.

On that point, there was agreement all around.

There was discussion about fundraising, the parade, drag shows, children areas and making the event more inclusive of bisexual and transgender community members -- including by avoiding scheduling it on the same weekend as the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

Some raised the concern that the GLCCB had alienated the gay bars in town by excluding them from Pride 2014, and needs to win their allegiance back. "Last year's situation offended every bar owner, every gay bar owner, in town," said Rik Newton-Treadway, who said he's attended Pride almost since its start. "It was a slap."

There was also a vocal group of attendees -- including Neel -- who urged the GLCCB to consider making Pride a separate entity unto itself, as it is in many other cities.

"It's become a turning point where something has to change," Neel said.

In response to several requests and questions from the attendees, Tinsley-Hall and Liller said they were still trying to get the answers from the city themselves.

"At times it seems like the city changes its mind on a daily, monthly, weekly basis," Liller said.

Frustrations aside, there did seem to be one thing everyone held in common: A belief that Baltimore Pride 2015 should -- and will -- be held.

That said, volunteers are desperately needed. For those interested, open planning meetings are scheduled for the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the GLCCB's space in the Waxter Center.

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