The best week to be in Provincetown is the week of Carnival. The parade is its signature extravaganza.
While many would contest that any week in P’Town during the summer months is a carnival, the official date is always week thirty-three — this year it was from August 17th – August 23rd.
The 2014 Carnival theme was “Comic Book Capers,” and what the theme evoked for revelers and tourists alike varied widely and wildly.
“At this point the term ‘comic book’ has a very broad definition and can include a wide range of things, from The Simpsons to Batman to graphic novels like Persepolis. But for me, comic books are synonymous with superheroes,” wrote Rebecca M. Alvin, editor of “Provincetown Magazine. ”
On parade day superheroes abounded chockablock along Commercial Street, the town’s main drag. They ranged from the obvious superheroes — Superman, Catwoman, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Batman and Robin, Aquaman and Wonderwoman — to the not so obvious ones — Nightcrawler, Hellboy, Professor X and Invisible Woman (actually I think I might have been the only one who saw her. He! He!) — that I had to stop and ask. The sea of humanity dotted along the narrow width of Commercial Street rivaled last year’s attendance (which brought over 90,000 revelers).
While inarguably P’Town is known as the best LGBTQ summer resort on the East Coast, and this year marked the 36th anniversary of Carnival, our presence wasn’t always as welcoming as it is today.
Famously known as an avant-garde colony at the tip of Cape Code, drawing artists, painters, writers (Norman Mailer lived at 627 Commercial Street year-round from 1990 until his death in 2001), playwrights (Tennessee Williams spent summers in town during the 1940′s, –and today a theater is name for him), the very tip of the Cape struggled to stay financially solvent through the summer months — especially through “August-itis” — until our pink dollars arrived.
“August-itis” was once notoriously known as the third week in August. It signaled the pre-Labor Day doldrums where tourist-dollars slumped precipitously. In 1978 the Provincetown Business Guild (comprised of local business owners) wanted to draw in an untapped market — one which would keep local P’Town businesses afloat.
P’Town’s local business owners wanted to market to the LGBTQ audience directly, and rallied against the Chamber of Commerce to do so. While today P’Town is one of the world’s LGBTQ meccas — over 1,400 same-sex marriage licenses have been issued to us since 2004 — some contest our stormy relationship history with P’Town, which illustrates financial interest trumping the town’s human interest in our civil rights.
“We were told in no uncertain terms that locals did not like the idea of a gay parade, they did not want it to happen and we should be prepared for some rock throwing. They even told us the corner where that would happen. Undeterred, the fearless few made their way to the center of town. As they approached ‘the’ corner they held their breath expecting the worst. We could not believe it”
Herbie Hintzer, one of the parades founders, is quoted saying in “Provincetown Business Guild Magazine.”We got a huge round of applause from everyone.”
Since P’Town’s first Carnival 36 years ago there has been a loyal stream of LGBTQ summer vacationers. And they come from states where the sun is always shinning and the weather is always deliciously inviting, unlike New England’s summer.
I have watched Carnival grow for over 30 years. Each year it represents our “March to Freedom” starting with a small group of inn owners who wanted to fill beds and who were willing to reach out publicly to gay and lesbian customers. “We had to deal with rubber gloved and masked police during an Act Out demonstration in the 80′s—I know what Ferguson felt like these last couple of weeks,” Ann Miller, of West Palm Beach, Florida told me.
“As I watch the parade, I say a silent prayer for the generation of young gay men we lost to AIDS, and a prayer of thanks for the steps to equality we have. Provincetown has always been special to me. It is the only place that I feel free, it is the only place that I am in the majority and that provides a unique safety and family unity. Carnival is a celebration of that.”
Miller like so many others find P’Town as their momentary respite from our ongoing struggle.
Their tenacity to create and financially support safe spaces, like P-town, that once wasn’t always welcoming of LGBTQ people make them and our allies superheroes, too.