By Dakota Parks for Inweekly
Pride is more than just a celebration. For many, it is a place of refuge, a time to honor the rich history of the LGBTQ+ community, celebrate the victories paved and wage defiance against the injustices still plaguing the community at large. As the catchphrase now emblazoned on Pride month merch reminds us: Pride started as a riot.
Despite the significant strides made since the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face relentless attacks from the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. In the face of recent legislation signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis restricting gender-affirming healthcare, drag shows, gender-neutral bathrooms and pronoun usage in K-12 schools—as well as the six-week abortion ban and widespread book censorship—there is a lot to protest this Pride.
This Pride season, PensaPride has returned for its third consecutive year, bringing together more than 100 local LGBTQ+ and allied vendors, artists and organizations as a powerful force that unifies the community and offers a platform for simultaneous celebration and protest. PensaPride is a sober, family-friendly space working to strengthen the Pensacola LGBTQ+ community and the families, creatives and small businesses that are part of it.
“Originally, Pensacola Arts Market was going to host its own Pride event since so many of our vendors are queer, and the arts market is an inclusive space,” said Marri Salt, the founder of Pensacola Arts Market. “Then, we quickly partnered with Strive and continued to grow organically as a grassroots organization. Now, PensaPride has its own board of directors, and we’re really trying to uplift our community and be an inclusive space for all ages.”
PensaPride was co-created by Pensacola Arts Market and Strive in 2021 and has grown to include an artist and vendor lineup curated by Pensacola Arts Market, a main performance stage featuring local bands and performers organized by LIBERATION, up to a dozen food vendors, a nonprofit zone, a kid’s zone and a sensory-friendly acoustic stage from 309 Punk Project.
Creativity at Pride Grace Thompson (@lauragrace.arts) is a fine-line ink and graphite artist, interweaving nature and the human figure in her work. As a recent B.F.A. graduate of the University of West Florida and a regular art vendor, she looks forward to selling her artwork at PensaPride every year.
“After coming out as queer within the past couple years, I have learned to offer myself more grace,” Thompson said. “Every day is a chance to learn more, and art works as an outlet to channel these emotions. In nature we see strength, love and community, and to me, that is what it means to be a queer artist. PensaPride is a safe space where shame has no home.”
Like Grace, artist Miranda Monaé (@faemonae) finds inspiration in nature, and they meld natural phenomena together with the fantasy genre to create diverse representation in their paintings, drawings and sculptures.
“The near infinite inspiration that I can draw from queer artistry throughout history allows me to create Black and brown characters that aren’t usually represented. Through my illustrations, I see my family, my friends, my community and myself in a fantastical and whimsical way,” Monaé explained.
This will be their first year vending at PensaPride, but Monaé is excited for the safe haven of Pride amid political turmoil.
“In the current political climate, where public sentiment and legislation are becoming more and more hostile toward queer folks, an event as accepting and loving as PensaPride is an absolute necessity,” they said. “We deserve spaces to build community and be ourselves, and we deserve safety when doing so.”
This year, to increase event safety, PensaPride will charge a one-penny admission fee and monitor event entrances and exits. Admitted guests will be given a wristband and permitted re-entry throughout the day.
Resistance and Resilience In response to the current wave of restrictive legislation, many Pride celebrations were canceled across the state of Florida. Drag has always been a staple of Pride, but the recent anti-drag law has changed that. This law prohibits minors from drag shows, imposing fines and potential suspension or revocation of liquor licenses for business owners who fail to comply.
Despite the majority of drag shows occurring in bars where the entry is already 18 and older, this law denies parents the right to decide what is appropriate for their children. LGBTQ+ advocates claim the vague language of this law will discourage LGBTQ-friendly businesses and further strip the rights of the transgender community.
“Pride is critical, because it is a political act of resistance against anti-LGBTQ attitudes and right-wing reactionary thought,” said Devin Cole, the Strive president and PensaPride board member. “I think it is cowardly to cancel Pride, because it’s just as dangerous and as unsafe now as it was 10 years ago. Safety and security [at PensaPride] is top of mind, and we will always continue to be all ages. We never once considered canceling, and I’m ashamed of the organizations canceling Pride.”
While PensaPride won’t feature drag shows this year, the organizers are committed to ensuring the drag community feels fully embraced and included as an integral part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Attendees can anticipate a variety show with performances by Mid Evil Times, Cookies and Cake, Bread Box Theatre and more. Among the highlights will be a unique rendition of the classic puppet show “Punch and Judy,” reimagined as “Punch and Ronny,” featuring a drag queen puppet chastising and reprimanding a Ron DeSantis puppet. Furthermore, the event will provide an open mic opportunity on the main stage, allowing the public an open forum to express its views on various issues, including the drag ban.
“The drag ban was written to be intentionally vague, so that it could encompass transgender people and gender non-conforming people,” Cole said. “It’s a smokescreen for anti-trans attitude sharpening in the state of Florida. Drag is often a hobby for people, and while many transgender people also love and do drag, it’s not a hobby or passionate project for us. It’s something we have to do every day as a transgender person.”
Within the expanded PensaPride festivities this year, an essential component entails a nonprofit and organization vendor fair. This space serves as a platform where LGBTQ+ and ally organizations converge, fostering community connections, offering valuable resources and collectively protesting legislation such as the drag ban. Vendors include Sunday’s Child, Stamped Film Festival, Strive, First City Art Center, Pensacola Opera, Equality Florida, Emerald Coast Equality, Pensacola Abortion Rights Taskforce and PEN America.
In the wake of Florida’s most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history, Equality Florida will travel to Pride celebrations across the state to collect petitions to resist DeSantis’ censorship agenda. Dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community, Equality Florida employs a multifaceted approach that includes lobbying efforts, grassroots organizing, education initiatives and coalition building. Through these concerted efforts, Equality Florida is steadfastly reshaping the social fabric of Florida, working toward a future in which every member of the LGBTQ+ community can enjoy equal rights and protections.
“Our main focus is freedom in Florida, and we have been seeing a lot of wars against freedom,” said Yordanos Molla, the Equality Florida deputy field director. “We see it on the academic side with the banning of books and on the collegiate level trying to limit diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. We’re seeing it in healthcare with the six-week abortion ban and SB 254, which severely restricts gender-affirming care for transgender adults and youth. All of this is an attempt to limit the freedoms of particularly marginalized communities in Florida.”
Part of Equality Florida’s work includes virtual town halls that break down the implications of proposed legislation and bills signed into law. As Molla explained, SB 254 is causing transgender people across the state to lose access to care, as it stipulates only physicians can provide care and requires a new consent form—which the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine are in the process of creating. Until this form is completed, many physicians are apprehensive about offering care.
As a result of SB 254, programs such as Pensacola’s gender-affirming clinic at Community Health Northwest Florida— which predominantly relies on the expertise of nurse practitioners— is adapting its practice to ensure continued access to care for transgender patients.
Equality Florida is not alone in its protest against healthcare restrictions. Several groups will be present at PensaPride to collect signatures for the ballot initiative “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion” to place the issue on the 2024 ballot for Floridians to vote to secure abortion access. The citizen-led ballot initiative also seeks to further codify that right into Florida law by creating a constitutional amendment that explicitly blocks the implementation of laws that prohibit, delay or restrict abortion access.
“PART will be out at PensaPride collecting signatures to put abortion rights on the ballot in 2024 and drawing those crucial connections between the attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion rights,” said Robin Blyn, the co-founder of the Pensacola Abortion Rights Taskforce (PART). “The governor and the legislature should not be making medical decisions for any of us. Bodily autonomy is on the line, but we are strong, we are powerful and together we will make Florida a safe place for all of us to thrive.”
Emerald Coast Equality and the Democratic Women’s Club of Santa Rosa will also collect signatures at PensaPride on behalf of the Floridians Protecting Freedom coalition and PART, a member of the coalition spearheading the ballot initiative.
In addition to the slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation and the six-week abortion ban, widespread book banning across the state has made headlines. Locally, a lawsuit was filed against the Escambia County School District and Escambia County School Board for their sweeping school library censorship— attempting to silence diverse narratives, including people of color and LGBTQ+ authors and stories. The plaintiffs include local parents, PEN America, Penguin Random House and a group of authors of children’s and young adult books. Together, they are fighting to declare Escambia’s book restrictions unconstitutional, which unfairly target specific viewpoints and infringe upon students’ fundamental right to receive information.
In response to the recent book banning, PEN America will be at PensaPride this year, as well as the collaborative duo of Open Books Prison Project and Bookstore and Inweekly. Together, the partners successfully raised funds to purchase and distribute banned books, ensuring children attending PensaPride have access to literature that celebrates diversity.
“We both agreed that PensaPride would be an ideal location, because so many of the banned books are by LGBTQ+ authors or focus on LGBTQ+ topics,” said Joani Delezen, the editor of Inweekly. “Additionally, PensaPride is incredibly family and kid friendly, so it’s a perfect place to do a book giveaway that is focused on kids.”
The collective resistance and protesting endeavors at PensaPride underscore the importance of community engagement, activism and advocacy in safeguarding fundamental rights. By standing together, supporting one another and raising our voices, we create a better future where all individuals, regardless of their identity, can live with dignity, equality and respect. The protests and celebrations at PensaPride serve as a powerful reminder that our fight for equality is far from over.
“None of this will take away from the fact that PensaPride is going to be a very fun day like usual, where everyone can let their hair down and celebrate with a thousand queer and trans people,” Cole said. “The most important thing about PensaPride is that it’s a testament to the fact that the LGBTQ+ community in Northwest Florida is not going anywhere. Pride is our self-defense and our time to rally the community.”
PensaPride WHAT: Pensacola’s annual, family-friendly Pride fest with an arts market featuring more than 100 vendors, plus live performances from diverse entertainers, musicians and DJs WHEN: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, June 24 WHERE: Cordova Square, 1101 N 12th Ave. PRICE: One penny DETAILS: @pensapride, facebook.com/pensapride