This year’s Baltimore Pride Week attracted 150,000 people — record attendance that far exceeded initial projections of 100,000.

But some see room for improvement and want organizers to address safety issues and make changes so the annual event that celebrates the LGBTQIA+ population is better run.

In comments on social media, people expressed concern about a stampede at a Pride block party after two people got in a fight and a chemical agent was sprayed. Others said the area at North Avenue and Charles Street where Pride was held was left with piles of trash. High fees priced out potential vendors and parade participants, others said.

Some have complained that when they raised these issues that Pride organizers ignored them.

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Pride organizers say they have been met with opposition every step of the way. Attempts to move the parade and block party due to a growing number of attendees were met with ire from nearby gay establishments who claimed that their businesses would be hurt financially, the organizers said.

“We’re not sitting here in a bastion of opposition. We’re not sitting here suffering from a critical mass of pushback from the community. We have such a large volunteer push force because we have a lot of support,” said Cleo Manago, head of the Pride Center, which organizes the event.

Manago said while the incident at the block party was unfortunate, he didn’t hear of any other security issues throughout the weekend.

“Overall, both days were positive and powerful for our very diverse community,” he said.

With the attendance boom, and a list of successes bolstering Pride Center of Maryland, Manago wonders if some of the opposition is racially motivated.

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Cleo Manago, director of the Pride Center of Maryland, sits for a portrait outside of the center’s temporary location on June 7, 2022. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“We are one of the only Pride events run by Black people,” Manago said. “It is important to understand that.” He said for so long LGBTQ institutions were run by white leadership, and that has changed.

Richard Finger, who has worked with Pride since 2019, said there is distrust among the LGBTQIA+ community under Manago’s leadership.

“Dr. Cleo Manago has lost the trust of the community,” Finger said. “Multiple friends and acquaintances have shared the perception that Pride and PCOM is skewed towards a specific demographic at Dr. Manago’s direction. Under prior leadership there were deliberate actions to cast the widest net of interest. If there were more transparency in his practices, public trust may follow.”

Finger said Pride Center of Maryland is “full of well-intended and well-meaning staff, but they are under-resourced to fulfill the monumental efforts of executing Pride.” The organization relies highly on volunteers and there has been a large turnover among them, he said.

“I became frustrated with the lack of follow-up and follow-through so I stepped aside this year (but did ultimately coordinate the parade at the last minute),” Finger said.

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Manago said that Finger volunteered to return to help with the parade.

“We didn’t ask him to do this. He came back on his own,” Manago said, adding that Finger has never expressed displeasure despite interacting with him face-to-face numerous times in the past year.

Stacey Antoine poses for a portrait near the Washington Monument in Baltimore on June 11, 2024. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Stacey Antoine, a fixture in the community who hosts numerous weekly events geared toward LGBTQIA+ members such as recurring karaoke and movie nights, said he thought many things were “mismanaged” with Pride this year, such as a lack of adequate security and “overwhelming” trash at the block party.

“That neighborhood is not ready for a citywide festival that is growing so big so fast. Not to mention nobody knows the people of the Pride Center. With that massive staff, why was it so poorly organized?” asked Antoine, who is part owner of The Club Car, a queer bar located less than a block away from the block party event.

Antoine also pondered whether the Pride Center having a half-million-dollar grant withdrawn by the city affected its efforts. Pride officials have repeatedly said that grant money had no effect on Pride Month programming.

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“At the end of the day, we should feel safe at our own festival,” Antoine said. “It’s sad that people felt otherwise. I guarantee this won’t happen at any other citywide festival, including Artscape.”

Myoshi Smith, a former hostess at Church Bar, has been outspoken about her time at the establishment. She is styled by Erika M. Cartledge.
Myoshi Smith. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Myoshi Smith, a pansexual relationship enhancement specialist based in Baltimore’s Pigtown community, said she and other vendors have been “priced out” from being able to participate in pride events.

In a social media exchange with Manago, she said that “Pride is not corporate. It is community.”

Later, Smith told The Baltimore Banner that she “didn’t feel confident with the leadership, sadly.”

Manago said he has invited critics to join efforts to plan and participate in Pride Month activities as well as to visit the center throughout the year, adding “99.9% of the people who have been complaining about Pride” haven’t visited the center.

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Despite the concerns, Pride Week offerings have plenty of supporters.

“The committee itself definitely has some organization and structure opportunities that will allow us to be more efficient — but I’m excited to return next year,” said Marcus Gross, head of SADBrunch, the company that produced several drag shows and was responsible for booking talent like Saucy Santana.

Sylvester Beverly has served on the Pride Center Board of directors for 10 years and attended Pride in the Park and was pleased with the event. He said Pride has grown from a small block party to something substantial.

“The park was lovely,” he said. “The weather wasn’t too bad. It seemed to be pretty well-organized and it flowed well.”