Kailua-Kona celebrates first Pride Festival in 6 years

  • A crowd watches a performance at Saturday's Kona Pride Festival. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)
  • Attendees at Saturday's Kona Pride Festival pose in front of a balloon "Pride" sign near the entrance. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)
  • Comedian Justine Smith performs at the Kona Pride Festival on Saturday at the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel luau grounds on Saturday. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — For those who came to Kailua-Kona’s first Pride event in years, it was more than just a chance to come together for celebration — it was a day promoting inclusivity for all.

“It’s not an event just for our community, and I think that’s really important,” said Joseph Smeraldi, 42. “It’s an event for everyone, and for people that may be outside our community to better understand our community and gain maybe a little bit of insight and maybe appreciation for what gay culture has to offer and what gay culture might be like.”

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The Kona Pride Festival, held Saturday at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel luau grounds, is part of a full weekend of activities taking place as part of Kona Pride Weekend. The events end today with a Drag Bingo Brunch at Island Lava Java. Tickets purchased in advance are required for that gathering.

Rocco Vick, owner of My Bar and one of the organizers of Kona Pride, said this year’s festival is the town’s first in six years.

“Being in the industry, I’m hearing what the gay population wants and needs,” he said. “And there’s so many people here that, some of these young kids that have just turned 21 and they’re coming out to the bars, they’ve never had a Pride in their own town … I feel like that is one of those things that kind of helps you evolve as a LGBTQ person is knowing you have a full community behind you and supporting you.”

Vick also noted the diversity of venues, including Gertrude’s Jazz Bar, Daylight Mind Coffee Co. and Island Lava Java, that are or were opening their doors for the weekend’s events.

“It’s just amazing to see it spread throughout Kona and seeing the response the local businesses are having to it,” he said.

“So that means that I feel like that’s going to build a sustainable plan; this is going to happen annually so much easier now that this is proven that we can do it.”

Smeraldi, who was attending the festival with his husband Dan Paul Roberts, 41, said Pride events can be a great energizer when life’s struggles appear.

“It’s easy to forget how many — or you don’t even realize on a day-to-day basis how many — other gay people or people that are within the gay community are in your community,” he said.

And having those events that bring everyone together, he said, can be a way to restore one’s energy when life’s struggles come up.

“You’re like, ‘No, there are a lot of people — it’s not just me; I’m not alone,’” he added.

“There are many people out there that are part of my tribe, my family. So it’s unifying in that way. It gives you solidarity.”

Roberts, who performs under the name “Candi Shell” and will perform at today’s brunch, similarly said Pride is an opportunity for those who might not recognize who is in their community. He called Pride a “rainbow blanket” accepting of everyone, and emphasized the inclusion of straight families at events.

“Seeing straight families is one of the most heartening experiences for me as a gay man at Pride,” he said.

And the tribe and family that celebrated together on Saturday came here from far beyond Hawaii, with many coming in from the mainland or even internationally for the celebration.

“It’s just always surprising to me, but in a wonderful way,” said Christopher Whipple, 40, of New York City, “that people will come from all over to come not just celebrate everybody else, but also to celebrate yourself. I think it’s a big deal to celebrate yourself, because we forget to do that all the time.”

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He also noted the safe environment Pride events are, saying he’s never been to one where he didn’t feel completely safe.

“Every Pride festival is just love,” he said, “like everywhere you look is just people there to say, ‘Hi, who are you, have a hug and tell me about yourself.’ It’s so welcoming.”

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