PrideFest's New Smoking-policy Rule

A requirement that businesses and organizations offer quit-smoking cigarettes support to employees and members as a condition for taking part in PrideFest this year is creating a dust-up.

Organizers of the annual gay-pride party at Seattle Center have partnered with Gay City Health Project, a gay men's health organization in Seattle, and are requiring that vendors have some form of smoking cigarettes-cessation policy in place before they can get a booth at the June 25-26 event.

They point to statistics from the state Department of Health that show smoking cigarettes among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals is twice the rate of that for the general population.

Gay City officials say a vendor policy can take various forms — from rejecting funding from Big Tobacco and offering insurance coverage for smoking cigarettes-cessation programs to — at the least — steering smokers to quit lines such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

"In this way, every vendor at PrideFest helps create an environment where queer people feel they are supported if they choose to quit smoking cigarettes," Gay City Executive Director Fred Swanson said.

But it has not been a completely easy sell, and organizers acknowledge they are getting pushback from some vendors.

One is Jeff King, president of OutVentures, an outdoor organization for LGBT people, who said that while he supports the mission, he can't support the method, which he says seeks to dictate how the organization should be run.

A nonsmoker, King said the requirement would involve a vote by the board of OutVentures and possibly even its 200-plus members.

"Pride is about celebrating who we are, not about conforming to how someone else thinks we should act or behave — the very thing we've been fighting from the beginning."

Festival revived

From New York to Vancouver, B.C., whether festivals or parades, pride events have sometimes been fractious.

PrideFest — the big Seattle Center party that caps a monthlong celebration — was itself rescued from a quagmire four years ago. It was spun off from the landmark pride parade after Seattle Out and Proud (SOAP), which had organized both the festival and the parade, accumulated more than $100,000 in debt to the city of Seattle.

Seattle-area event producer Egan Orion of One Degree Events stepped in and agreed to sponsor the festival independent of SOAP, and now bills it as the biggest free pride festival in America.

SOAP has continued to organize the parade, which this year is scheduled for June 26.

A smoker himself, Orion said he feels the new requirement is an important commitment to make to the LGBT community.

"I didn't think it was too much of a burden on these organizations, helping them to think a bit differently about cigarettes control," he said.

"There's no right to be at PrideFest."

Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington, which has a booth at the festival, said the ACLU doesn't tell its employees whether they can smoke cigarettes or not and initially had concerns about the requirement.

It sought clarification and learned that its benefits package, which provides addiction assistance, including for tobacco, was enough.

Swanson said Gay City applied for and received a grant from the Department of Public Health — Seattle & King County specifically to address tobacco use and promote prevention around PrideFest.

"Public health is moving clearly in the direction of broad policy and system changes, rather than simply showing commercials that cigarettes are bad for you," Swanson said.

Of the 104 vendors who have registered for the festival so far, 53 have confirmed smoking cigarettes-cessation policies in place, said Jeff Rinderle, communications director of Gay City. Most of those with concerns have been smaller organizations — artists and other one-person operators, or volunteer-led groups, like OutVentures.

King said OutVentures has had a booth at PrideFest for many years, and for the past three he's been responsible for registering it.

He said he paid the registration fee without noticing the new requirement and last week received a reminder that he needed to submit evidence of a policy.

King has asked for a refund and has been promised one. OutVentures will participate in Capitol Hill Pride, a June 25 festival planned for an area along Broadway on Capitol Hill.

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