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About 4,500 attend local Pride Parade

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Posted: Monday, October 5, 2009 12:00 am

University Avenue was quiet with only the sound of the sporadic train of speeding cars breaking the silence of an unusually warm October afternoon-until 1:09 p.m.

Running nine minutes late, Gainesville Police Department began to block the eastbound lanes of University Avenue for the ninth annual Gainesville Pride Parade Saturday.

As rainbow-infused stars and stripes were unfurled, and parade marchers began to move east on West University Avenue to the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, the noise began.

Cars honked in support. Marchers shouted for equality. The Sister Sledge song "We are Family," Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and "The Nicest Kids in Town" from the musical "Hairspray" blared from floats adorned with pastel-colored balloons and rainbow banners and streamers.

Two petite elderly women held hands as they walked in front of a massive motor home draped with rainbow streamers, honking its thunderous horn in support of diversity.

The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida led the stream of paraders, closely followed by UF's Pride Student Union, The University Club, Buchholz High School's Gay Straight Alliance and the self-described only feminist bookstore in Florida, Wild Iris Market.

At 1:27 p.m., three GPD cars followed one of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church's two parade cars off University Avenue as the parade ended at Southeast First Street.

As quickly as it began, University Avenue returned to normalcy.

The Bo Diddley Community Plaza, however, was alive with pride and festooned with a vast array of rainbow balloons, banners and an estimated 4,500 attendees of all sexual orientations until 9 p.m. Saturday.

The smells of Gainesville's own Kickin' Devil Café's spicy jambalaya and char-grilled quesadillas mixed with the sweat of festival attendees filled the air.

Ben Collins, a member of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church, was one of those in attendance.

Collins, who wore a purple T-shirt with the words "Friends of a feather flock together" imprinted on the front spray-painted his hair pink and added gold and silver glitter for the event.

Terry Fleming, co-president of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, spoke about the importance of Saturday's events.

"We are your family, your friends, your neighbors. We are just a fabric of today's society," Fleming said. "As long as there is discrimination against gay and lesbian people, there's a need for these events."

This year's Gainesville Pride Parade marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, a series of riots against police officers who frequently raided known gay establishments and considered to be the genesis of the modern gay rights movement.

Donnie Fields, vice president of programming for UF's Pride Student Union, spoke about the adversity that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning community still faces after 40 years.

"Our community has had a very tiring year. Proposition 8, Amendment 2 and Amendment 1 have tried forcing us back into the closet," said Fields, respectively referring to the amendment that banned gay marriage in California and the amendment that defined Florida marriage as the union between a man and woman, as well as the proposed amendment to the Gainesville City Charter that would have removed the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from the city's nondiscrimination policy.

Nestled in booths around the community plaza were vendors ranging from the American Automobile Association and the Gainesville Rabbit Rescue to UF's Pride Student Union.

Mayor candidate Craig Lowe, who is a chairman for the city's Equal Opportunity Committee, manned a booth, handing out buttons and talking to Gainesville residents.

"Today's a day where Gainesville can celebrate diversity and the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population in Gainesville," Lowe said as he looked onward at the large rainbow balloon arc that enshrouded the stage to the community plaza.

Those taking the stage at the Gainesville Pride festival Saturday included Trinity Metropolitan Community Church's choir and University Club female impersonators Lady Pearl, Jawanna Jackson and Kelcy Divine.

Divine, dressed in a knee-length black dress with size 13 silver high heels, held her poodle-Chihuahua mix, Coco Chanel, in her arm as she walked.

Anthony Kelley and his partner, Charles Kelley, who were married in California before Proposition 8 was passed and who also hold a domestic partnership in Florida, responded to protesters as they held their dogs, Luna and Astro, who were dressed in a pink leotard and a striped polo shirt, respectively.

"There is no but. God loves everyone," Anthony Kelley said.

"Isn't the saying, 'God loves you no matter what?'" Charles Kelley said.

The couple, who have been together for six years, have their marriage certificate hung on the west side of their house and their domestic partnership certificate hung on the east side of their house.

"I work for a company where my boss is gay, and I'm gay; and I can't carry [Charles] on my insurance," Kelley said as he spoke about the differences granted to domestic partners and married couples.

Parade organizers from the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida were unable to give an estimate of the festival's actual cost, but Bob Woods, communications and marketing manager for the city of Gainesville, said that police costs totaled $3,946 last year and were expected to be about the same this year.

GPD spokesman Lt. Keith Kameg said the 17 police officers on duty experienced no problems with any participants or protesters.

"Everybody has peacefully got along," Kameg said. "That's what we want to see. It's a festival. People should have fun."

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