On Saturday evening, a co-organizer of Pierre's first Pride Festival, Megan Fischer, called the day's event a success, based in part on the sheer number of people who showed up. They'd easily exhausted their 100 name tags, and Fischer figured as many as 200 to 250 people came through the Ramkota River Center.
Pride festivals celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender culture and pride. They're held in cities all over the U.S. and the world. They started in the early 1970s.
The festivals often include parades, but several attendees at Saturday's event in Pierre said they were glad to be inside the air-conditioned halls of the Ramkota, instead of outside in the heat of the day. Temperatures peaked at 99 degrees on Saturday, according to National Weather Service numbers measured at the Pierre airport.
The event, hosted by the Pierre Area Center for Equality (PACE), began with some remarks from a co-organizer, Peter Kleinpass, who gave some of the backstory to Pierre's first Pride Festival. Recent history included some negative comments on social media about a year ago. Kleinpass said he grew up in southern California, and wondered if he might have to go back in the closet to live in South Dakota.
But over the last year, the support that had come together to put on the first ever pride festival in Pierre, had led Kleinpass to conclude that it's a true South Dakota value to accept other people for who they are.
The event featured remarks from a couple of Democratic Party nominees for statewide office who’ll appear on the November ballot – Michelle Lavallee, who's Billie Sutton's running mate as he seeks the governorship; and attorney general candidate Randy Seiler. Seiler's campaign was one of the sponsors of the event.
In his remarks, Seiler described his role in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's veto of a "bathroom bill" in 2016. The bill said that school restrooms and locker rooms "shall be designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex." Daugaard's veto message was widely reported with a couple of points Daugaard had made to explain his veto – that the bill addressed no pressing issue and such matters were best left local authorities.
Also a part of the governor's veto message was the threat of a federal lawsuit: "Preserving local control is particularly important because this bill would place every school district in the difficult position of following state law while knowing it openly invites federal litigation."
The reason for that part of the veto message, Seiler told festival attendees on Saturday, was the effort he made as U.S. Attorney for the district of South Dakota at the time. He had done the research to determine that the bathroom bill was unconstitutional, and he had told Gov. Daugaard that his office was prepared to bring legal action against the state if the bill were signed into law. Seiler said he'd told the governor that he'd be "buying a federal lawsuit" if he signed the bill.
The attorney general's office – which Democrat Randy Seiler is seeking, as is Republican Jason Ravnsborg – is a focus of the ACLU of South Dakota in this election cycle, the group's policy director, Libby Skarin, told the Capital Journal. The ACLU staffed a table at the Pride Festival.
For this election, the ACLU is trying to educate voters about what the function of the state's attorney general is, Skarin said. A lot of the public doesn't think of the AG as an elected official, who is supposed to be responsive to them as voters, she said.
The ACLU is putting together a questionnaire for candidates to answer, Skarin said, which will include items about the number of people in South Dakota who are incarcerated and how they think the success of an attorney general should be measured.
Also represented at Saturday's festival was the League of Women Voters of Pierre. Cindy Snow and Paige Olson were staffing a table where people could register to vote. Launched last year, Pierre's local organization recently completed the process to become an official chapter with the national LWV.
Musical entertainment was provided by the Better Ride band out of Aberdeen, and Pierre resident singer-songwriter Katie Dwyer.
The highlight of Pierre's inaugural Pride Festival were two drag queen shows, which were performed by Pierre resident Kelly Turner, along with Martina Shakers and her drag queen family from Sioux City, Iowa – Giselle Jacobs, Alessandra Jacobs, Devin Shakers, Satine Kennedy, Georgia Rose Shakers.
Towards 9 p.m. in the Ramkota River Center, maybe 100 people were still mingling in the ballroom getting photographs of themselves with one of a half dozen drag queens who'd just come off a confetti-strewn runway after the finale.
The last number was performed to "Never Enough" from the P.T. Barnum musical biopic "The Greatest Showman" followed by "This is Me" from the same film, with its refrain:
"Look out 'cause here I come / And I'm marching on to the beat I drum / I'm not scared to be seen / I make no apologies, this is me"
Turner has been performing for 37 years. She moved back to Pierre in 1995. To her knowledge it was the first drag queen show that had ever been performed in Pierre.
About the first show and the first pride festival, Turner said "It's such a great start for what we can do for the LGBT community in Pierre."