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Where acceptance is main event

New Hope's fourth annual gay pride celebration is for "everybody," an organizer says.

Gay pride had long been second nature to New Hope when Daniel Brooks decided to organize the first weekend celebration four years ago.

The historically diverse town had established itself as an asylum of open-mindedness, but for some younger people in the gay community, New Hope was a mystery.

"I'd be in my gym in New York and invite people to come down," said Brooks, owner of the Wishing Well Guesthouse in New Hope. "They'd say, 'Where's that?' "

That often repeated question spurred Brooks into action. He contacted a few friends, formed a committee, and channeled Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. He and his friends would put on a show starring their favorite Bucks County town.

On Friday, the fourth annual "New Hope Celebrates: Somewhere Over the Rainbow" gay pride celebration will launch a three-day event, which will include its first program for gay parents and their children, and the first parade down Main Street. The celebration's theme is inclusiveness, Brooks said.

The festival is for "everybody, whether they're gay or straight or don't know the difference," Brooks said. "We make sure to hold onto that."

This year's celebration is the largest, with 20 events during the weekend. There will be a barge ride, historic tours of the borough, dances, a barbecue, a softball game, bike rides, and an event honoring four women for their efforts on behalf of the gay community.

Celebrities including Reichen Lehmkuhl, who won The Amazing Race, and nightclub DJ/drag queen entertainer Lady Bunny are scheduled to attend.

Proceeds from the celebration will benefit Fighting AIDS Continuously Together (FACT Bucks County), the Human Rights Campaign, and the Rainbow Room, a center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and questioning youth run by the Planned Parenthood Association of Bucks County.

"When I came to town, even though I grew up in the area, it was still a struggle coming out," said Michael Gardner, the parade's grand marshal, who performs under the stage name of Miss Pumpkin.

"It isn't as much of a struggle anymore, but New Hope was such an amazing and accepting community where I gained an instant family."

More than 3,000 attended last year's event, and more are expected this weekend. The celebration is expected to generate $1.27 million in tourism revenue and has become a top money-maker for businesses during the tourist season, said Brady Barr, an event coordinator who is a board member of the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

The festival started with 1,000 attendees and 10 events. The idea of a parade came up after Brooks invited members of the Gay and Lesbian Big Apple Corps concert and marching band to participate in the celebration.

But organizing the parade wasn't easy. Brooks suggested a march through the "back roads" of New Hope, which didn't require all of the official permits and paperwork.

The committee's response: "No back roads anymore. We want to come down the main street," Brooks said.

The festival's diversity has prompted some to say that the celebration isn't "gay enough," said Steven Walny, a New Hope Realtor and organizing committee member. Walny interprets that to mean that the festival differs from ideas about gay pride events rooted in what he calls "shock value" clips of big-city pride events on the television news.

"The gay community is as varied as any community," said Geraldine Delevich, a borough council member. "You have gay people who lead very straight lives."

New Hope's history of acceptance has its roots in the town's Quaker history and as a haven for the artistic community, Delevich said. The Borough Council passed a sweeping anti-discrimination law in 2003, and the town has one of the highest concentrations of same-sex households of any municipality in the country, at 4 percent, according to the 2000 census.

In recent years, the town's previously high profile in the gay community had sunk with the closing of several gay establishments. The AIDS epidemic also had an effect, Barr said.

"I had moved here, and I was like, where did people go?" Brooks said. "There was no unifying body. It was hard to make friends. New Hope Celebrates was my way of doing that."

Now, organizers are moving to the next phase.

Rand Skolnick and Terrence Meck, owners of the Raven restaurant and inn, a business whose reputation has been predominantly gay, have purchased an old hotel across the street and will add it to their Raven Resort.

Another property owned by the partners might become an extension of the Rainbow Room. Brooks has moved the celebration's New Hope Idol talent contest to the fall, and plans a GLBT film festival for the winter.

The spirit of the events for parade grand marshal Gardner is "be true to yourself," he said. "If people can't accept it, it's their loss."

If You Go

The "New Hope Celebrates: Somewhere Over the Rainbow" gay pride celebration will begin at noon Friday with the rainbow flag drop at Starbucks, Bridge and Main Streets, and end Sunday with the Lady Bunny Sunset Farewell party at the Raven Resort, 385 W. Bridge St. For a schedule and event prices, call 215-862-8819 or visit www.newhopecelebrates.