Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 24th 2018

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40 Years Strong: Flying the Pride Flag

By Jennie McKeon

June is a time for summer vacations and beach days.

It’s also a time for pride.

In June 1970, people marched into New York City’s Central Park for the nation’s first gay pride parade. It was the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots when police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Following the violent raid, protesters were camped outside the bar for weeks. It was the impetus of the LGBT rights movement.

In the nearly 50 years since the first pride parade, similar events have continued all over the world. In Pensacola, Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida (GGNWFL) hosts a week of events dedicated to learning, advocating and celebrating.

“It’s an opportunity to get together,” said Louis Cooper, president of GGNWFL. “It’s a little bit of learning and growth. It has value. There are precious few places people can be themselves.”

Each PensacolaPRIDE event has a theme. This year’s theme, “Beyond the Rainbow,” honors the 40th anniversary of the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride designed by San Francisco-based artist Gilbert Baker. At the annual Festival of the Park in Seville Square, there will be more than 40 rainbow flags as part of the PensacolaPRIDE Color Guard. For a donation of $50, you can honor someone with the flag and a plaque that will be displayed at the festival.

Before the rainbow became the symbol for all things pride, the symbol was an upside-down pink triangle. In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazis used the symbol to separate homosexuals in the concentration camps.

It was San Francisco politician Harvey Milk who challenged Baker to come up with a more positive pride symbol. According to an article from San Francisco Travel, Baker dyed eight strips of fabric and stitched them together. Each color had a meaning: hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.

When the flag was raised for the first time, Baker said people understood it immediately.

“It completely astounded me that people just got it, in an instant, like a bolt of lightning—that this was their flag,” he told San Francisco Travel. “It belonged to all of us. It was the most thrilling moment of my life. Because I knew right then that this was the most important thing I would ever do—that my whole life was going to be about the Rainbow Flag.”

Cooper said the flag is a meaningful milestone for the LGBT community.

“It’s important to have a banner to stand under with your community,” he said. “And I love that it’s a rainbow, the entire spectrum of light. To me, it means it includes everybody.”

Recently, there has been discussion of adding black and brown stripes to the flag to recognize LGBT people of color. It’s a discussion that’s “definitely worth having,” Copper said. After all, he said, Gay Grassroots and similar organizations are proponents of inclusion.

Throughout the PensacolaPRIDE events, there are plenty of opportunities for people from all walks to life to learn and socialize together, including a roundtable discussion on LGBT issues and a book signing with Dr. Jay Watkins, author of “Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism.” And these opportunities aren’t solely for LGBT folks. Cooper said he hopes more people come to events for the first time and learn something new.

“It’s good to expose yourself to new things,” he said. “I think some might be surprised to find how absolutely boring our lives really are.”

Cooper came out to a friend as a 17-year-old in the 1990s. A couple decades later, he is happily engaged. The reality of marrying a man is one of the victories Cooper said he never believed would happen so soon.

“I’ve seen the turn of the tide in my lifetime,” he said. “As a kid in Alabama, I’d look up which cities had domestic partnerships. I educated the hell out of myself. I didn’t think we’d ever get to legally get married.”

Despite the tide turning, there have been some recent setbacks, including President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban transgender individuals from the armed forces and the recent Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Colorado baker who refused to make a same-sex wedding cake. In response, Gay Grassroots has initiated a fair business pledge to encourage local businesses to pledge not to deny service to LGBT people or any marginalized group. Businesses that take the pledge will be at the organization’s annual Celebration Ball. Cooper said about a dozen businesses have already taken the pledge.

There’s still a reason to fight. And there’s still a reason to celebrate.

“The LGBT rights movement is just that, a movement—the combination of thousands of small steps forward by individual people like you and me,” he said. “Making progress, recognizing progress and celebrating is what pride is all about.”

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PensacolaPRIDE Events 2018

Saturday, June 16
Festival in the Park
Festival in the Park will take place in Seville Square from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Live entertainment is scheduled for all day. Highlights of the day include festival headliner Wayward Sisters, who perform at 12:45 p.m., standup comic Andrew Ferrara performs at 1:30 p.m. and the traditional end-of-day drag show starts at 5 p.m.
11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Seville Square

Tuesday, June 19
Generational Experiences Roundtable Discussion
This roundtable panel discussion mixes college-aged LGBTs with mature members of the community, with audience input. Admission is free.
7 p.m.
Hagler Auditorium, Pensacola State College, 1000 College Blvd.

Wednesday, June 20
Happy Hour at chizuko
Enjoy Raffles, giveaways and drinks. Admission is free.
5 p.m.
chizuko, 506 W. Belmont St.

Thursday, June 21
Book Reading at Artel Gallery
Dr. Jay Watkins, a visiting assistant professor at the College of William & Mary, will read from his book, “Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism,” published by the University Press of Florida. This event is cosponsored by Artel Gallery. Admission is free.
7 p.m.
Artel Gallery, 223 S. Palafox

Saturday, June 23
Celebration Ball
To close out the week of pride events, Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida invites the public to their annual Celebration Ball. Enjoy a four-course gourmet dinner with live entertainment provide by the Women’s Ensemble of the Choral Society of Pensacola. Tickets are $45 each purchased early; $50 at the door.
6 p.m.
Pensacola Opera Center, 75 S. Tarragona St.

For more information on Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida, visit ggnwfl.com.
Business owners and managers can sign the business fairness pledge at gaygrassrootspledge.org.