PensacolaPRIDE 2012, a weeklong festival celebrating the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, was punctuated Saturday with a “Festival in the Park” at Seville Square, which featured a symbolic “Wedding of the Hearts” of more than thirty same-sex couples, officiated by Rev. Rick Sosbe, pastor of Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church.
“Unfortunately, we are only able to show them our support and solidarity and stand witness to their commitment to each other,” said Doug Landreth, president of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida, which organizes the festival. “While the State of Florida still denies the right of marriage, no one can deny you the ability to publicly declare your love and commitment to someone.”
This was the third annual PensacolaPRIDE festival, which, like other Gay Grassroots events, was open to the entire public. This year’s festivities included several first-time events, like an LGBT film festival, a 1940s USO-themed ball to celebrate the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and an LGBT youth prom, which Landreth said was especially timely with the increased instances of bullying.
“Many students don’t feel like their own prom is a safe place for them to attend, if they’re even allowed to attend with a same-gender partner,” he said. LGBT youth have historically faced difficulties in establishing support groups at their local schools, like gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs, but that’s an area where Landreth feels progress is being made.
“Just recently the ACLU in Pensacola has hired somebody full-time as a community organizer,” Landreth said, “and the vast majority of her time is going to be spent on trying to get GSAs established.”
There were a handful of protestors circling Seville Square during Saturday’s events, holding up bibles and signs with anti-gay messages, but Landreth said the community has come a long way over the years.
“Used to we had to contend with roofing nails being thrown on the streets, beer bottles being thrown, and that sort of thing,” he said. “Luckily, it has gone from hostility to them just exercising their freedom of speech. Thus far this year everyone has seemed to at least be civil in their protests.”
He was also very pleased that, for the first time, the local LGBT community has gotten support from a sitting politician. Earlier this month, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward issued the following proclamation:
WHEREAS, the Pensacola community is a diverse community that includes people of all races, colors, religious beliefs, national origins, ages, and genders and strives for inclusiveness and acceptance of all citizens, and
WHEREAS, as we embrace and celebrate our individual identities and commonalities, the Pensacola community will unite in solidarity and common purpose to celebrate the diversity, shared humanity and civil rights of our entire region
NOW, THEREFORE I, Ashton J. Hayward, III, Mayor of the City of Pensacola do hereby proclaim June 10 – 17, 2012, as PENSACOLA PRIDE FESTIVAL WEEK in the City of Pensacola and urge all citizens to recognize and celebrate the diversity, humanity and equal rights for our entire community.
Landreth added that Gay Grassroots had invited other politicians to sign an LGBT support pledge on a banner at the festival, but none had done so.
“Anyone is able to take that pledge, and we’re asking them to not only support LGBT equality in the abstract,” he said, “but actually to make a pledge that they will use their words, actions and energy to actually move forward LGBT equality.”