Phoenix Pride is a safe place in the Valley for everyone to be their true selves.
Celebrating its 42nd anniversary this year, the well-known nonprofit organization promotes unity and self-esteem among LGBTQ+ community members through resource-based work in Phoenix. Spearheading community programs and two of Arizona’s largest Pride festivals, Phoenix Pride goes to great lengths to honor diversity and battle for equality.
“Everybody’s human and everybody has the right to be who they are, and to be able to work for an organization that allows that to happen and fights for that to happen, it’s not like coming to work,” Phoenix Pride Executive Director Mike Fornelli says. “It’s something that I enjoy doing, and I don’t look at it as a job. I look at it as a way to make our community better.”
Phoenix Pride was launched in 1981 as a march at the state Capitol for gay rights. Today, the philanthropic organization is run by a four-person team operating marches, rallies, parades, entertainment, education and outreach events 365 days a year.
Its staff partners closely with nearly 10 LGBTQ+ organizations when issues and events occur in the community, including one•n•ten, Equality Arizona, ONE Community and Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
The organization’s focus, however, is its programming for scholarships and community grants. It recently underwent a rebranding process to spread awareness about its concentration on providing community resources.
“When Phoenix Pride started, its tagline was ‘Party in the Park,’ and everybody, when they heard Phoenix Pride, just associated it with the festival,” Fornelli says. “But now, being able to get the word out about all of the programming and the community grants and scholarships and all of that is a big milestone for us.”
The organization’s scholarship program provides scholarships for high school seniors, college students and adult re-entry students who identify as LGBTQ+ or allies. It offers $5,000 scholarships and $1,000 athletic and veteran scholarships.
This past year, the program produced $53,000 in scholarships for a total of over $400,000 since its inception in 2009.
Its community grants program is geared toward supporting other Arizona nonprofit organizations implement new programming.
Organizations in need of financial assistance undergo an application process with Phoenix Pride, which makes funding decisions based on involvement in health and education; community development; social justice and inclusion; and LGBTQ arts, culture and history. A certain sum of funding is then awarded to the applicants.
Within the past year, the program has generated around $145,000 in grants, contributing to approximately $650,000 overall in the last 14 years.
According to Fornelli, the scholarship and community grants programs have totaled just over $1.2 million since 2008 — a highlight achievement that the organization hit in time for its 40th anniversary in 2020.
Although Phoenix Pride emphasizes its community programs, it doesn’t slack on its festivals.
The organization’s annual Phoenix Pride Festival, which is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, is fast approaching the weekend of Saturday, October 15, and Sunday, October 16, at Steele Indian School Park.
“We get a lot of folks, kids, adults from 2 years old to 100 years old, but a lot of them are not able to be their authentic selves in their everyday lives,” Fornelli says. “Just being able to provide that safe space where they can come out and see other people like them and be who they are, not worry about being judged or anything like that, is pretty special.”
Over two days of camaraderie between the LQBTQ+ community and its supporters, there will be seven different stages packed with performances, an exhibitor marketplace, food trucks, and opportunities for marketing and business exposure. Proceeds will go toward funding the organization’s programs and public education about the LGBTQ+’s presence and rights battles in the community and beyond.
Fornelli hopes to see between 55,000 and 60,000 festival attendees come out to support the cause.
On Sunday, the festival’s parade will begin at 10 a.m., with approximately 230 entries leading the celebration down Third Street, from Thomas Road to Steele Indian School Park. The parade usually attracts around 15,000 spectators.
For those who need assistance or want to become involved in the organization, Fornelli urges them to reach out to Phoenix Pride.
“We are here for anybody that needs us 24 hours a day. People can call; people can come in. We’re happy to connect anybody with any resources that they may need — anything from medical to substance abuse, to domestic violence to housing, education. We’re just here to help.”
WHEN: Various times Saturday, October 15, and Sunday, October 16
WHERE: Steele Indian School Park, Third Street and Thomas Road, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $30