Pride Month had a memorable finish this year at Zoo Knoxville with a sold out celebration of what it means to be different.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, a tipping point for the gay rights movement in the United States.
For the first time ever, the city’s zoo partnered with Knox Pride to hold a celebration on Wednesday, the last day of the month.
Because of uncertainties about the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Knox Pride’s scheduled events were digital this year. Thanks to lessening concerns about the pandemic due to the widespread availability of vaccines, as well as how easy it is to socially distance at the zoo, organizers chose to finish off the month of celebrations with the in-person event, said Zoo Knoxville CEO Lisa New.
“We have a longstanding core value of respecting diversity and embracing uniqueness,” said New. “And it’s about the biodiversity of our planet but also the diversity of our community, so when we talked to Knox Pride and they were interested in a partnership and doing something together, we thought that it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of Pride month and just make sure the zoo is a welcoming place for everybody.”
The festivities at the zoo included Pride-themed “enrichment activities” for the animals, such as a rainbow colored, wedding cake-shaped block of ice with fruit frozen into it. There were also special food and drink options for the humans; plus festive decorations, music and a parade for attendees of all species.
Zoo staff members also seemed to be enjoying the celebration. Many of them wore rainbow suspenders, socks, tutus, etc. as they happily interacted with visitors.
“With staff, with the team, we said this is an event tonight to honor Pride and we would love for you to wear your name tag, but wear anything you want to celebrate Pride and to please let the animals share their appreciation, too,” New said.
“I’m really over-the-top excited about the extent to which staff went out. The exhibits are all decorated, it looks so cute and that was an above and beyond effort that they did because they want to welcome everybody to the zoo. It’s the community’s zoo and we like to say that conservation takes everybody. So, everybody is welcome here.”
The Smith family of Knoxville definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves near the old reptile habitat. William, who eagerly explained that he was about to turn seven, and his younger brother were crawling enthusiastically on the bronze tortoise statue that’s been ridden by several generations of zoo guests.
The oldest sibling, Lilly Smith, eagerly interjected herself into a discussion with her mother and other adult relatives about how they’d learned of the event.
“I’m pansexual, and I have not had the chance to come to a Pride event before this one,” the 15-year-old said. “I’ve wanted the chance to participate in something like this for a while now, and this seemed like a good family way to celebrate, so we are also here because of that.”
Older guests had plenty of ways to enjoy themselves, too. April, a grey-haired lesbian, spent part of her night dancing by the DJ booth near the front entrance and encouraging everyone in the crowd to join her. She had more than a few takers.
“I actually don’t know this woman, we’ve never met — she’s just fun and everyone’s friend!” laughed one other woman as they gyrated around each other.
“I’ve spent so much of my life ashamed of who I was, and now I don’t feel that way anymore,” said April. “Yeah, this is pretty much my first time coming out to a Pride celebration because I am who I am. I don’t have to get out and prove anything, I am who I am…. I’m here this evening because of the animals. I’m all about these animals …. I love my babies, that’s why I am here. I love people, but I’m all about the animals!”
April was especially proud of a colorful tattoo on her upper arm of a rainbow and animal paw prints that she described as symbolizing the “Rainbow Bridge.” The Rainbow Bridge is a mythical overpass said to connect heaven and Earth — and, more to the point, a spot where grieving pet owners reunite for good with their departed furry friends.
All proceeds from the event went to supporting Zoo Knoxville’s mission. “Pride was very supportive of that. Every dollar that comes to the zoo stays at the zoo, and helps us to be this community asset,” said New.
If you are disappointed that you missed the fun, you have something to look forward to next year, she added.
“This is the first of many Pride events at the zoo. It’s a very happy, family friendly event and to see the crowds that have come, and the support that we’ve gotten …. It’s very validating, so absolutely it’s the first of many,” she promised.
Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on July 2, 2021