The organizers of the annual Baltimore Pride Month events — including the festival and parade — are looking to move the festivities to accommodate growing attendance, which is projected this year to be 100,000 people.

A committee of 50 people will decide where the events will be held, choosing from five potential locations — including an area near the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Lyric Baltimore where Artscape was held last year. A potential move has created buzz and concern among the city’s LGBTQ community. The decision is expected to be made by the end of the month with an official announcement in March, according to organizers.

Other locations being considered include a space near University of Baltimore and several locations near North Avenue, according to committee member Tramour Wilson, senior director of advocacy and community engagement at the Pride Center of Maryland. The committee is also considering keeping the parade route and block party where it was held last year — in the Station North and Old Goucher neighborhoods — and extending it to nearby Johns Hopkins University.

Cleo Manago, executive director of Pride Center of Maryland, the state’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources to the LGBTQ community, defended the planning committee, calling it “very active” when asked about the potential move and the makeup of the committee.

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Manago stressed that all of the gay bar owners in town are represented on the committee in addition to a majority of local organizations that serve the LGBTQ community.

“In a deliberate effort to foster inclusivity, this year’s focus involves broadening committee representation by incorporating community organizations serving the sexual gender minority community, as well as local bars and nightclubs. This initiative aims to ignite a sense of unity within our community,” Wilson said.

The theme for this year’s events, which will be held from June 10 to 16, is “Power of the Past, Force of the Future,” Wilson added.

The biggest reason why the committee is considering moving the festival is because of security concerns as attendance continues to grow, Manago said.

“Many of the factors concerning Pride are still under development or in process,” Manago added.

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Wilson said that potential locations came from committee members.

Attendance at Pride events has exploded in recent years — up from 30,000 people in 2018, to 80,000 in 2022, to a record 90,000 in 2023.

“Pride planning is currently underway. We are not sure if there will be an increase to costs due to relocation. We just don’t know,” Wilson said.

Despite a growing number of attendees, implications of moving the current Pride parade from last year’s location in the Station North and Old Goucher neighborhoods of the city brings into question the state of Baltimore’s LGBTQ community.

The percentage of Maryland’s adult population that is LGBT is below the national percentage.

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In Maryland, 5.4% of the adult population is LGBT, while the national percentage is 5.5% and in nearby Washington, D.C., which has the highest percentage of LGBT adults in the country, it is 14.3%, according to a report from the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law.

In Baltimore, the Mount Vernon area is known as the city’s gayborhood because it was once was the the thriving heart of gay bars, businesses, and culture, but it is now a shell of its former self.

News of the potential move of Pride has the gayborhood abuzz.

At Leon’s, which claims to be one of the longest continually open gay bars in the country, patron Karl Jacobs had mixed thoughts.

“I think moving Pride can be a good thing when it’s done for the right reasons and is intentional,” the Mount Vernon resident said. “If the move is to better accommodate more members of the LGBTQ+ community, then I see that as a good thing. However, Pride celebrations are also opportunities to showcase gayborhoods and queer communities — something that has been shifting in Baltimore for the last decade. Moving something like a festival makes more sense due to capacity versus a parade. The parade used to end here in Mount Vernon, now it doesn’t even cross North Ave.”

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Some community members are questioning a potential move.

“I just think it’s shitty that they are being so clandestine with the move,” said veteran drag queen Stacey Antoine, whose stage name is Karmella. “Plenty of businesses plan on Pride happening in that designated area and it’s messing with their money. Also can we just commit to a location? Consistency is key. Otherwise people don’t know what is going on or where to go for Pride events because we are bouncing from place to place. It’s not right nor professional.”

Antoine, who was named Queen of Pride 2008 has been to every Baltimore Pride — in and out of drag — since 2005. His favorite location was when the block party was held at the corner of Eager and Charles streets when the now shuttered Grand Central and Hippo gay bars were open.

“It was pumping!” recalled Antoine, a 37-year-old Station North resident.

Andre Cawley, who is co-founder of the popular gay dance party, Sweet Spot, said he is excitedly waiting for the committee’s official decision before commenting about it. Cawley did add that Pride is important for the LGBTQ community in order to feel safe and to meet fellow LGBTQ people.

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”I believe that Pride events are an opportunity for everyone to come together, to celebrate, and to speak out for our community,” Cawley said.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the Williams Institute report referenced refers to data about adults who identify as LGBT, and correct the percentage of the national adult population that identifies as LGBT.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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