DAVENPORT -- To say that the QC PrideFest is colorful is an understatement.
The boisterous sixth-annual festival -- at 2nd and Warren streets -- was an ideal complement to a long-awaited (and consistently) sunny day Saturday. Multi-colored flags flapped in the breeze; colorful balloons dotted the area, rainbow-themed and tie-dyed merchandise exploded from more than 100 vendors, and everywhere you looked, it seemed someone was festooned with many hues -- in their hair, head gear, around their necks, on their clothes, and of course, on their exposed skin, with tattoos or body paint.
"It's just fun. It brings the community together," said Larry Sandefur, of Moline, a gay QC Pride booth volunteer. "It's straight, gay -- it brings everybody together. It's good to help them."
PrideFest celebrates that diversity and works to ensure that every person (regardless of age, race, religion, or sexual orientation) has the right to be respected and safe and should be free to live out their core values. Board president Jeff Simpson said the group is not just about gay and lesbian rights, though that forms a core of attendees.
"Half of our board is heterosexual. And there's a lot of ethnic diversity here," he said of the festival. "We have international vendors that bring their culture here."
This year added a second stage for live entertainment and it's the second time the festival runs two days. Last year attracted 4,500 people, and Mr. Simpson hopes to double that this year. The 140 vendors have come from several states, he noted.
An interfaith service today at 4:30 p.m. will celebrate diversity and feature representatives of five faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Unitarianism and Native American. "We want to show communities of faith coming together and supporting equality," Mr. Simpson said.
A booth representing Equality Illinois registered people to vote and asked them to send a postcard to their legislator to support same-sex marriage. Illinois just finished its legislative session without the House voting on gay marriage, though a bill was approved in the Senate and by a House committee, said Robert Cameron, an Equality Illinois intern.
"I'm very optimistic. We're on the right side of history," he said, noting 12 states now allow same-sex marriage, including Iowa. Of the PrideFest, he said: "It's great. It's a good way to just reach out to the community, make contact and act as liaison between them and their representatives."
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Davenport last weekend focused on diversity in its service, and church members decorated rubber ducks for their PrideFest booth.
"A story that was read to kids said it's OK to be different. It's OK to have two moms," said Lucia Dryanski, a member of the church's LGBT task force. "For us as Unitarians, we talk about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We are a welcoming congregation. We make a special effort to reach out."
The Unitarians have had a PrideFest booth since the beginning. "I just enjoy the diversity, seeing all the different people walking through," Ms. Dryanski said. "It's awesome."
New to the event this year is a Strength in Numbers men's social group, which is selling flowers and plants and manning a memorial booth, to honor people who have died of HIV/AIDS, said member Bob Rinderknecht, of Davenport, who is HIV-positive. The men's group aims to create a comfortable environment that allows HIV-positive gay men privacy, information, educational opportunities and fellowship.
Mr. Rinderknecht said they have just 10 members,but estimates there are 1,000 men locally that have HIV/AIDS. He wants to let people know "that we are not ashamed to be HIV-positive. It is what it is. There's a group willing to work with you and better your own life."
Patrick Crank, of Walcott, a 25-year survivor of HIV/AIDS, said he considered suicide. "If it weren't for these guys, I wouldn't be here today," he said, noting the group moderator (Paul Kelty) went to Davenport West High School with him. "These guys have been really, really supportive and I just want to be able to give back."
Stephanie Pilichowski, of Rock Island, roamed the PrideFest with her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. A single mom, she's due to have a baby in six weeks, as a surrogate for a gay couple in San Francisco.
She said she told her daughter that "there are some boys who love boys and girls who love girls, and they should be able to have families, too."
Ms. Pilichowski loves the friendly, festive atmosphere of PrideFest. "You can't make a wrong decision here. Everyone is supportive of each other." Of the more risque elements, she added: "To each their own. Bodies are normal -- we all have them."
Near the entrance off Warren north of 2nd, there's a"Zany Zone" with burlesque shows, high heel races, body painting, a dunk tank and other more adult-oriented shenanigans.
Beth Vanthournout, of Rock Island, took off work Saturday from her AT&T customer service job to come down with her husband and stepson. "It's a lot of fun. There is so much stuff here. People are so nice and friendly. I may be married, but I still love everyone. I just love seeing everyone and everything."
QC PrideFest continues noon to 8 p.m. today. The live entertainment includes Busted Chandeliers (noon), Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls (2:30 p.m.), Candymakers (6 p.m.), Lojo Russo (1:30 p.m.), and Imani Dancers (3 p.m.). There is a first "Doggie Pride Pageant" at 1 p.m., and a drag show at 7 p.m.
Admission is $5 (Saturday admission also good today). For more information, visit, qcpride.org.