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PensaPride: Pensacola’s New LGBT+ Pride Festival

By Dakota Parks for Downtown Crowd

Every June, people in cities across the world flood the streets in rainbow regalia, flying flags and holding signs in parades and festivals to celebrate the LGBT+ community. National Pride Month not only brings members of the community together to celebrate, but also marks the catalyst for gay rights in the U.S. and the on-going fight for equality.


For the last 10 years, Pensacola’s family-friendly park celebration ‘PensacolaPRIDE’ has been hosted by the now defunct organization Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida, which permanently dissolved due to financial constraints during the pandemic. To fill the void in the community, the nonprofit organization Strive has partnered with Pensacola Arts Market, located at 2725 W Cervantes Street, to host its newest event: PensaPride, a caravan and Pride festival from 10 am–5 pm on June 26.


At the height of the pandemic last summer, Pride events worldwide were canceled, and Strive began to brainstorm alternative ways to celebrate Pride Month, while adhering to social distancing and safety protocols. In June 2020, the inaugural Pensacola Pride Caravan was established and more than 29 cars and 50 people showed up at Open Books with decorated cars, flags and even a few dogs dressed up in rainbow gear to drive around downtown Pensacola and celebrate safely.


Building on the success of last year’s event, Strive is kicking off the PensaPride 2021 event with another caravan from Open Books, located at 1040 N Guillemard Street, to the Pensacola Arts Market, where the Pride festival will be held. As an added bonus, there will be prizes awarded for the best decorated cars. The caravan will meet at Open Books at 10am and make its way through downtown Pensacola to the Pensacola Arts Market, where the festival will be held from 11 am–5 pm.


For Devin Cole, the president of Strive, the need for this event is deeply embedded in the political origins of Pride, which began as a riot against police brutalization amidst vice raids in New York in 1969 and raised political traction to the issues that still affect the LGBT+ community to this day.


“Pride is important because it gathers us all together and reminds us that we have to keep fighting and that there is still work to be done,” they said. “The fight did not end in 2015 when gay marriage was federally recognized. Homelessness in the LGBT+ community is still an epidemic. Violence against black trans women is still an epidemic. There are still undocumented, migrant trans people locked away in ICE detention centers. All of these issues are political issues that must be paid attention and acknowledged at Pride. Pride is a time to reflect on what we have accomplished and a reminder of what still needs to be done.”


Part of returning to the political roots of Pride involves making space for activists and organizers at the festival. The festival will feature food trucks, art vendors and performances from local drag queens, LGBT+ musicians, comedians and poets. In addition, local activist organizations like Pensacola Community Action Committee and Black Voters Matter will be tabling and speaking at the event to provide information and resources to the community. As Cole explained, giving organizers space at Pride allows them to connect and educate the community on the interconnected issues of police brutalization and the Black Lives Matter movement, which directly impacts black transgender and black queer people. Another new facet of this familyfriendly Pride festival will be its designation as a sober space with no alcohol permitted or sold at the venue.


“Alcoholism and drug use as a whole are major issues in the LGBT+ community,” Cole explained. “Whether people are ready to admit it or not, it’s dangerous, deadly and very rampant in Escambia County and the surrounding areas. Many major Pride events are surrounded by alcohol and alcohol advertising. This designation as a sober space is for people who are dealing with alcoholism or people who are in recovery, which can be very alienating. We want to respect those struggles and make everyone feel included and welcomed at Pride.”


Strive will be raising money through the sale of raffle tickets at the festival to support the Pensacola LGBT Shelter, a co-op nonprofit that is currently raising funds to open Pensacola’s first transgender and queer-friendly homeless shelter. The shelter is a joint coalition between the following organizations: Strive, Pensacola Osteopaths, Pridesacola Support Group and Evolve ‘n Thrive. Board members from the Pensacola LGBT Shelter will be tabling at PensaPride to answer questions and pass out flyers that illustrate the need for the shelter. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT and 29 percent of transgender people report being turned away from shelters entirely, with some being brutalized, harassed and sexually assaulted at the shelters.


“There are no homeless shelters in Pensacola that will accept transgender people, and many queer people must hide their sexual orientation to stay in the local shelters,” Cole explained. “Most of the local shelters are faith-based and make up their own policies. The Pensacola LGBT Shelter is secular and paramount to the wellbeing and safety of LGBT+ people, specifically transgender people. Strive exists as an emergency housing program for transgender people, and we have had to suspend the housing program during COVID. This shelter is sorely needed and has been needed for years.”


The PensaPride event is free and open to the public and will live stream on social media through the Strive Facebook account for those that are unable to attend in-person. Visit the PensaPride 2021 Facebook page for updates and details on this year’s event, scheduled for June 26 from 10 am–5 pm at 2725 W Cervantes Street. To learn more about volunteer, donation and sponsorship opportunities for the Pensacola LGBT Shelter, visit pensacolalgbtshelter.wordpress.com or follow its progress on Facebook at @pcolalgbtshelter.


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