Over the past four decades, there has been a positive shift for the LGBT community, most of it quite recent—the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, 19 states have the freedom to legally marry same-sex couples and earlier this month, President Barack Obama released a proclamation declaring June as LGBT Pride month.
The country has come a long way since the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969 when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City, turned violent. The event led to the founding of gay activist organizations and the first Gay Pride Marches, which is why pride events are typically held in June.
But it’s not enough to take these events in stride, said Doug Landreth, president of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida.
“I don’t know if there is more support as there is more resolve, but society as a whole has changed their understanding of what LGBT rights are all about,” he said. “As a gay man in my 50s, I feel an obligation to those that brought us to where we are now. There’s going to be a time that the torch has to be handed off to someone.”
After the Memorial Day parties on the beach, Gay Grassroots aims to educate the community as a whole about LGBT issues with PensacolaPRIDE, a whole week of pride events ranging from a ball, to a film festival and even a night of line dancing this month.
Growing up in the closet
Before Landreth was a gay rights advocate, he was a boy living in a small town in Tennessee who was fearful someone would discover his secret.
“Being in the closet, I spent every single waking moment calculating every move, carefully choosing every piece of clothing I wore to make sure no one would know,” he said. “It was a horrible existence.”
Fast forward to adulthood, Landreth met someone and eventually the two bought a house together. Yet even as a grown man, he still couldn’t find the strength to come out to his parents.
It wasn’t until 2004, when Landreth heard that Rhea County, Tenn., where he grew up, was seeking to amend the criminal code to charge homosexuals with crimes against nature, he found himself not just coming out to his parents, but to everyone.
“I heard that a high school sophomore was holding a pro-gay rally in the area,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, that sweet little girl is never going to get anyone to show up.’”
Wanting to support the young girl’s efforts, Landreth did show up (as well as many others) and ended up becoming a keynote speaker at the rally.
Finding a Voice
In the 1990s, Landreth co-founded the CoastalPRIDE in Fort Walton Beach, which was the area’s first LGBT organization. Even after joining forces with the similar organization Gulf Coast TIDE, Landreth was not satisfied by the efforts being made in the community.
“Neither groups were more than a social organization,” he said.
Instead, Landreth wanted to advocate, “for the rights we should’ve been born with.” So in 2008, the same time Florida voted for a same-sex marriage ban, about 100 members of the LGBT community publicly rallied in downtown Pensacola. And Gay Grassroots was born.
Since 2008, Landreth has seen a rapid change in attitudes.
“One public event we did was holding a big picnic on National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11. So many people were concerned with their safety that we would go to Naval Live Oaks Park and have the picnic in a hidden pavilion,” he said.
Since hiding only defeated the message behind Coming Out Day, the organization has since moved the event to Bayview Park and even stretched the picnic into a three-day event. When the City of Pensacola voted for the domestic-partnership registry last December, Gay Grassroots members were there in red to support its passage.
“That’s what we’ll be honoring at this year’s Celebration Ball,” Landreth said. “But there’s more work to be done.”
The meat and potatoes
Within Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida are “meat and potatoes” events, said Landreth. They are not just about pride, but education and advocacy. And they’re not just for members of the LGBT community.
PensacolaPRIDE’s mission is “To celebrate and promote the history, courage, diversity, and worth of the Pensacola area gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons, individually and collectively as the LGBT Community,” Landreth said.
Whether the organization is urging the school system to include LGBT students in anti-discriminatory laws or offering sensitivity training, the event in June and throughout the year help Northwest Florida to progress as an accepting community.
“It’s important for people to know about the LGBT community in a safe, non-hostile environment,” Landreth said.
Thinking back to his childhood, Landreth said he would never have guessed that the gay rights movement would have come this far.
“It’s the fastest growing civil rights movement,” he said. “I don’t know if my generation is going to be the one to finish it, but it has to be finished.”
Landreth says he will continue his advocacy for the future leaders of the movement. Kids such as the 15-year-old boy from Milton who volunteered time to create logos for PensacolaPRIDE events.
“He won’t like the Facebook page or receive the emails for fear of his family seeing, but he told me that he has found comfort in knowing that there were people who have his back,” Landreth said. “I look forward to the day he has the strength to come out. That’s why we keep doing what we do.”
PENSACOLA PRIDE CALENDAR OF EVENTS
FESTIVAL IN THE PARK
PensacolaPRIDE kicks off with a day at Seville Square. Bring your blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy live entertainment, festival food and drinks from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Don’t miss the Wedding of Hearts Mass Ceremony starting at 11:30 a.m. All couples are invited to publicly exchange vows to express their love and commitment to each other during this ceremony. Send an email to email@example.com stating you wish to be part of this ceremony with the names of each person to have a “Wedding of Hearts” certificate prepared for you.
LGBT MOVIE MARATHON
Spend an afternoon enjoying movies and $1 concessions at the LGBT Comedy Movie Marathon in the Ever’Man Community Room, located at 315 W. Garden St. The marathon starts with “Kinky Boots” at 1 p.m., “Hairspray” at 3 p.m. and “The Birdcage” at 5 p.m. Movie admission is free. Hotdogs, chips, popcorn, candy and soda will be available for $1 each.
TOWN HALL MEETING AND LGBT SENSITIVITY TRAINING
Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida President Doug Landreth will lead a discussion about the LGBT concerns, myths and misconceptions, history, medical disparities, etc. at the Pensacola Public Library, located at 239 N. Spring St. at 6 p.m. Meeting is free and open to the public.
DAY OF VISIBILITY AND ACTION
Wherever you are Tuesday, June 24, wear your purple to show your support of the LGBT community. As for action, you’re encouraged to come out to someone, email an elected official, write a letter to the media, sign an online petition or donate to an LGBT cause. You can find a contact list for elected officials and media outlets in the PensacolaPRIDE 2014 program.
CHILI DINNER AND LINE DANCING
Put on your best western gear and enjoy homemade chili (beef, chicken and vegetarian) along with coleslaw, cornbread, iced tea and brownies along with an evening of country line dancing at Holy Cross MCC, 3130 Fairfield Dr., from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is $8. Sign up on facebook.com/pensacolapride.
STOP BULLYING TOWN HALL MEETING
Susan Walch of the University of West Florida will present the latest info on just how severe the problem of school bullying has become, the role that social media plays, and how school systems are unprepared to deal with this problem starting at 6 p.m. Information will also be presented on the long-term effects of bullying. The meeting is free and open to the public.
OPEN MIC/ OPEN STAGE PERFORMANCE SHOWCASE
Sing a song, play an instrument, read a poem or just come to enjoy the talents of the LGBT community and allies at First City Art Center, 1060 Guillemard St. from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments such as fruit and cheese, veggies and dip, hummus and crackers, and desserts will be sold. If you would like to perform, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PensacolaPRIDE closes a full week with the Celebration Ball that honors the domestic partnership registry passage last December. The ball takes place from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at Bayview Senior Center, located at 2000 E. Lloyd St. Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. Couples and singles alike are invited to celebrate the recent formation of a Domestic Partnership Registry for the City of Pensacola. Suggested dress is formal/semi-formal/cocktail. Email email@example.com for tickets. Vegetarian and gluten free menu available with at least one-week prior notice.
For more information about Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida and PensacolaPRIDE, visit ggnwfl.com and facebook.com/pensacolapride.