By Dakota Parks for Inweekly
While June commemorates the official start of Pride month, the celebrations in Pensacola always begin earlier. For decades, our local beach has been a hub of vibrant LGBTQ+ celebrations during Memorial Day weekend. These festivities date back to the 1960s, a turbulent time for the queer community, where gay men and women across the country sought refuge and community on Pensacola Beach.
During this time, the fictional character of Emma Jones, created by Ray and Henry Hillyer, emerged as a symbol for gay rights across the South, aiming to combat harassment and create community. Under the cloak of secrecy provided by the Emma Jones Society, gay men were able to discreetly receive LGBTQ+-related media through a PO box registered under the fictitious name. This subterfuge protected individuals from being targeted and harassed by police, who received tips from the local post office of individuals receiving illicit mail.
As a result of this sprawling queer network, the Emma Jones Society became the esteemed host of the inaugural LGBTQ+ beach parties in Pensacola—a tradition that continues to thrive today.
Now, Memorial Day weekend is considered one of the biggest LGBTQ+ events in the U.S., bringing in thousands of tourists and millions of dollars each year.
While the event was not founded as a Pride celebration per se, the founders fought against violence inflicted on the queer community, creating an environment of acceptance and boldly paving the way for the inclusive community we celebrate today.
Pride month is a time to celebrate the progress made by the LGBTQ+ community, honor the struggles faced by its members and promote acceptance and equality. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for rights, while also providing a platform for voices that have been historically marginalized.
This year, Pride is more important than ever—especially in Florida, because of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills recently signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis that target gender-affirming healthcare, drag shows, gender neutral bathrooms and pronoun usage in K-12 schools. These Republican-led attacks on the queer community have forced Pride festivals across the state to cancel or change their programming in the face of anti-drag bills—highlighting the vital importance of visibility and solidarity.
For this Pride kickoff issue, we compiled a comprehensive list of upcoming events, making it easy for readers to stand in solidarity with their LGBTQ+ neighbors by connecting with others in the community, learning about crucial organizations making Pensacola a better place, and supporting local LGBTQ+ artists and businesses. We also sat down with Sydney Robinson, the founder of Pride Pensacola, a recently launched local LGBTQ+ directory, and Devin Cole, the President of STRIVE, to learn more about the organization’s latest transgender resource list.
PENSACOLA’S FIRST LGBTQ+ DIRECTORY Pride Pensacola’s new directory serves as a platform for residents and visitors to connect with establishments that share their values. Much like LGBTQ+ Memorial Day weekend, the directory not only fosters economic growth, but also promotes a sense of belonging and community among LGBTQ+ individuals and allies.
“It’s my hope to celebrate local LGBTQ+ people for their contributions to our city,” Robinson said. “Historically, that has been focused on economics, and I think that’s the easiest way to show the presence that we have in the community. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people feel unsafe and vulnerable right now—both locally and nationally. I want to change that in whatever ways I can. This is one way we can show people in our community that we care about them and want them to be safe and succeed here.”
The Pride Pensacola directory began over a year ago when Robinson was trying to promote LGBTQ+ businesses without accidentally outing anyone. She began to collect information for the directory using a voluntary form that businesses can use to self-disclose. The directory includes an application for both LGBTQ+ businesses, as well as allies, and includes brick-and-mortar locations and virtual businesses, nonprofits, activists, makers and creatives.
“It’s tiring to be an activist all the time and to be politically active constantly,” Robinson said. “I wanted to make it easier to support people that align with your own values. This way, all you have to do is go to the website directory or browse our Instagram to find your next baker or photographer.”
Intersectionality was also top of mind for Robinson. The directory includes self-disclosure for intersectional identifiers to promote or emphasize additional marginalized identities, such as BIPOC, transgender, disabled, immigrant and woman-owned organizations. Robinson plans to regularly promote businesses, artists, nonprofits and activist groups on the Pride Pensacola Instagram, as well as create a window cling for brick-and-mortar businesses to help locals identify businesses in-person.
In order to ensure that ally businesses actually understand what it means to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, Robinson created a pledge of nondiscrimination. This includes ways to actively support the community, such as creating a nondiscrimination hiring statement, displaying pro-LGBTQ+ signs, flags or window clings, training staff on handling anti-LGBTQ+ behavior from customers and encouraging gender-neutral bathrooms.
“I want the directory to be a community hub where people can not only find businesses and organizations to support, but also a place that increases visibility for LGBTQ+ culture in the city and connects the community to all of these valuable resources— showing people that they are not alone,” Robinson said.
The Pride Pensacola directory is actively growing. If you are interested in joining or supporting, you can find the application and more information at pridepensacola.com or by following @pridepensacola on Instagram.
TRANSGENDER RESOURCE LIST Like the Pride Pensacola directory, STRIVE understands the need for connecting the transgender community with resources and support networks to ensure its holistic well-being. As a grassroots organization, STRIVE supports the local transgender community through emergency housing, allocations for HRT medication, food, transportation and other survival needs.
For transgender individuals, accessing quality healthcare is often a daunting and challenging journey. From facing discrimination and stigma to encountering a lack of understanding, many within the community have encountered barriers to receiving the care they deserve. To make matters worse, trans healthcare is under constant attack by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. Recognizing the urgent need, STRIVE recently launched the NWFL Transgender Resource List to serve as a lifeline for those seeking transgender and LGBTQ+-affirming healthcare providers in the Pensacola area.
“The resource list emerged out of necessity,” Cole said. “We would get dozens of messages from people looking for recommendations for medical providers. It can be incredibly hard to find care, because doctors have always been able to legally discriminate against gay and transgender people. We wanted an easier way to provide the community with a list of doctors that transgender people can go to—knowing that they’re going to be affirmed, supported and treated with dignity and respect.”
The resource list encompasses a wide array of specialties, including primary care physicians, endocrinologists, OB/GYNs, pediatricians and mental health providers. It serves as a crucial tool for empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their healthcare, while ensuring their safety and well-being.
“No one should have to run the risk of a doctor refusing to treat you or struggle with a doctor that begrudgingly accepts you as a patient and then does not honor their hippocratic oath and treats you with hostility,” Cole said. “It’s critical that transgender, nonbinary and two-spirit people all receive adequate, safe and accessible healthcare.”
STRIVE is constantly working to keep the resource list up to date amid anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and extend its coverage to nearby counties. The NWFL Transgender Resource List can be accessed on strivepensacola.com or social media link tree @strivepensacola. If you or someone you know is a healthcare provider or practitioner and are trans-affirming/LGBTQ+-affirming and would like to join the list, email STRIVE at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LGBTQ+ MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND EVENTS
Dive into the LGBTQ+ Memorial Day weekend beach festivities, happening primarily near Park East on Pensacola Beach May 25-28. Just follow the sea of rainbow flags, and don’t forget to wake up early to beat the traffic.
Beach Circuit Parties @memorialweekendpensacola Enjoy an entire weekend of non-stop dancing at the largest circuit party for gay men, hosted by Johnny Chisholm within the iconic white tent at Park East. Tickets to the round-the-clock parties can be purchased at johnnychisholm.com.
Sexacola Girl Fest @sexacola_girl_fest Join the largest lesbian and queer party on the beach being held all weekend long at The Dock, 4 Casino Beach Boardwalk. The event will feature top DJs, live entertainment, fire blowers, a rave room, go-go/pole dancers and drag performances. Tickets can be purchased at sexacola.com.
Pensacola Unleashed: The Final Chapter @pensacola_unleashed Celebrate 20 years and say goodbye to Pensacola Unleashed at its final lesbian party Saturday, May 27 at Flounder’s Chowder House, 800 Quietwater Beach Road, Gulf Breeze. You can purchase advance tickets at pensacolaunleashed.com/tickets.
Liberation! Pensacola @liberationpensacola Dance the weekend away with the girls, gays and theys at Pensacola’s premier 18 and older monthly LGBTQ+ pop-up drag and dancing event Friday, May 26 at Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill, 400 Quietwater Beach Road Suite 13, Pensacola Beach, with a $20 cover. Enjoy a free beach day party at Park East on Pensacola Beach Saturday, May 27.
P3 Comedy Fest @p3comedyfest Get ready for a side-splitting weekend with the Pensacola Pre-Pride Comedy Fest, taking place May 26-28 at multiple downtown venues. The returning event features the best LGBTQ+ and military comedians from across the U.S., raising money for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Day passes and weekend passes can be purchased on eventbrite.com.
RISE: A Celebration of Drag @thecabaretpensacola If you head downtown when the sun sets on the beach, you can enjoy a weekend packed full of drag shows featuring special guests, such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Sasha Colby, at Cabaret, 101 S. Jefferson St. Showtimes are 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Thursday, May 25, and 10:30 p.m. and midnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Drag Bingo, Trivia and Shows @theroundup The Roundup, 560 E. Heinberg St., will also celebrate all weekend, with a 10:30 p.m. drag show Wednesday, May 24, trivia with Monica Heart at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26, drag bingo with Monica Heart at 6 p.m. Friday, May 26, followed with the hot bod contest at 9 p.m., a foam party at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27 and drag shows at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Sunday, May 28.
Ctrl Alt Drag Show @terrahcard, @thehandlebar850 See an edgier side of drag at this showcase hosted by Terrah Card at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 27 at The Handlebar, 319 N. Tarragona St. The show is for those 18 and older with a $10 cover.
Drag Brunch at Alga @terrahcard, @algabeerco Indulge in a delectable afternoon of brunch, beer and drag, hosted by Terrah Card on Sunday, May 28 at Alga Beer Co., 2435 N. 12th Ave. The 18 and older show is free to attend.
PRIDE MONTH EVENTS
Looking ahead to June, there’s already a lot on the Pride calendar—and we know even more happenings are in the works. That’s why we plan to run this calendar weekly all month with any new additions. So, if you’re planning a Pride event, make sure you email the details to email@example.com.
Sunday’s Child “True Colors” Party @_sundayschild Dance the night away at “True Colors: A Celebration of Pride” from 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday, June 3 at Hellcat Hangar, 1008 N. Navy Blvd. The event is hosted by Sunday’s Child, Pensacola’s premiere LGBTQ+ focused philanthropic group. This Pride party features a day party and night party with something for all ages, including an art auction, open bar, dinner, drag show and dance party. Tickets can be purchased at sundayschild.org.
Pride & Perfect Allies @pensapride, @perfectplain Sip and shop till you drop at an LGBTQ+ makers market, featuring queer artists and makers, hosted by PensaPride starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 10, at Perfect Plain Brewing Co., 50 E. Garden St. The event, which will donate proceeds to Sunday’s Child, is 18 and older to enter and 21 and older to drink.
Pups for Pride Parade @wolfgangpensacola, @perfectplain Take your pups on a prideful pub crawl and “pawrade” from Seville Square to Perfect Plain Brewing Co. from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, June 10. The festivities include a Pride costume contest, drag fashion show and more. Pre-registration for the 18 and older event, which is also donating proceeds to Sunday’s Child, is required and can be done at wolfgangparkandbrews.com.
Gays and Gamays Wine Tasting @thenestgeneralstore Say “cheers” to Pride at a social hour and wine tasting Friday, June 23 at The Nest General Store, 11 S. Palafox, Ste. C. The wine sampling event starts at 5 p.m. and is free to the public with glasses and bottles available to purchase.
PensaPride @pensapride Support local queer and trans artists at Pensacola’s annual, family-friendly Pride fest with an arts market featuring more than 100 vendors, and enjoy live performances from diverse entertainers, musicians and DJs. The alcohol-free event is 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, June 24 in Cordova Square, 1101 N. 12th Ave.
Liberation! Pride Afterparty @liberationpensacola The party doesn’t stop after PensaPride. Dance the night away at Pensacola’s premier 18 and older monthly pop-up drag and dancing event for the LGBTQ+ community, hosted by Liberation! starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Easy Going Gallery, 701 N. V St. for a $10 cover.
Drag Race Live RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World 2023 tour is coming to the Saenger Theatre Wednesday, June 28. Attendees can expect to see performances from Asia O’Hara, Bosco, DeJa Skye, Jujubee, Lady Camden, Laganja Estranja, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and select finalists from season 15 of the hit show. For details and tickets, visit pensacolasaenger.com.