The Sept. 8 event will be held at Blue Diamond Park in New Castle, a decision that has drawn mixed reaction from Pridegoers.
The event, now in its 16th year, was founded and held for a number of years in Wilmington, in northern Delaware, before it was moved to the predominantly gay beach town in the southern end of the state.
Delaware Pride president Steve Newman said organizers felt the time was right for the festival to reach new audiences in a new environment.
“We wanted to bring it back to the New Castle area because we want to be more visible in a place that may not be as accepting,” Newman said. “Rehoboth is known as one of the top-10 gay beaches, and fighting for acceptance is not something you really need to do there. We want to gain visibility all across Delaware, not just in a place that is already very gay-friendly.”
While many attendees have welcomed the change, others have decried the break from tradition.
“It’s definitely been mixed,” Newman said.
Newman added that the Rehoboth community has been supportive of the festival for years and Pride organizers are hoping that, funds allowing, they can stage two festivals next year — one in northern Delaware and one in Rehoboth.
“We don’t want to completely leave Rehoboth Beach because we have enjoyed having our event there and we want to keep the community involved,” he said. “We’re hoping that next year we can afford two festivals. I think that’ll help a lot with the people who are having an issue with it being in New Castle.”
Despite those who are criticizing the change, Newman said the festival is on track to be the biggest yet.
The new location is expected to bring more out-of-towners from Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., with a total anticipated attendance of about 3,000. This year’s festival is about 45 miles from Philadelphia, while the previous location was more than 120 miles away.
A wealth of political speakers is also expected to turn out, as it’s an election year, which Newman said will also fuel participation.
About 100 vendors, who Newman said have responded very positively to the new location, will be on hand.
Jade Starling, 1980s songstress of “Catch Me (I’m Falling)” fame, will headline the event. A longtime LGBT activist, Starling will perform songs from her new album.
New this year, the Royal Court Pageant will be held at the opening of the festival. The drag event, during which a Pride king and queen are crowned, typically took place prior to the festival at a nightclub venue, which made it difficult for youth to attend.
“We wanted to do the pageant in a way where everyone can be part of it,” Newman said. “We figured that, by having it right at the festival, this was a great way to have people focused on the pageant and more involved than ever.”
This year’s Pride theme is “Don’t hate, don’t segregate, just participate,” which Newman said is fitting.
“I think this is a great slogan with us moving this year and people’s concerns,” he said. “It’s a really good idea to keep in mind as we go forward in the new location.”
The Delaware Pride festival will be held 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 8 at Blue Diamond Park, 765 Hamburg Road in New Castle. Tickets can be purchased online in advance for $5, or for $7 at the festival. Youth 14 and under are free.