Two years ago, Gainesville hosted its largest pride parade ever. Thousands celebrated by wearing rainbow colors and marching to Bo Diddley Plaza to the tune of “Love Shack” by The B-52’s.
But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the tradition had to take a pause.
The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida has organized the parade and festival annually since 1992. But because of the current surge of COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak, the organization decided Aug. 24 to cancel this year’s Gainesville Pride Festival and Parade.
Eden Goodman, a 20-year old UF business information systems junior and president of UF club oSTEM, recalled attending the 2019 Pride Festival as a freshman who had never been to any other pride event before.
“It was a nice, comforting situation to be in for somebody who was just moving out for the first time and realizing that there are lots of people like you,” Goodman said. “There were families and there were people in their 50s and 60s and it was really nice to see that sort of population being represented.”
Today, Goodman’s heart aches for queer college students like them who are searching for a display of community.
“My heart goes out to the students that are not able to experience that and are yearning for that sort of thing,” they said. “I wish it were different.”
PCCNCF’s president Tamara Perry-Lunardo said she was looking forward to hosting the festival again. She’s disappointed the PCCNCF Board of Directors, festival co-chair and other community members had no choice but to cancel the event to protect the health of the Gainesville community.
“Last year, we canceled the Pride Festival thinking that it was just a COVID year and it had to be done,” Perry-Lunardo said. “In the summer, when the average for COVID cases each day were low, we were excited to plan for the possibilities of in-person events for Pride Month.”
The organization has held the Pride Festival and Parade during Pride History Month every October since 1992, under the leadership of its co-founder Terry Fleming. In the past, PCCNCF held events like an awards show and a silent auction during the festival. In October 2019, it hosted the Art in Crosswalks program, which led to the painting of the three rainbow sidewalks downtown that still color Southeast First Street today.
Mayor Lauren Poe even designated April 28 as Terry Fleming Day after the lifelong Gainesville activist passed on the same day in 2020.
Friends of Fleming still remember his love for the Gainesville community.
Perry-Lunardo was introduced to the PCCNCF through Fleming. They had started an LGBTQIA inclusion group together at their local church and shared a passion working with members of the community.
“One of the main things our organization tries to do is promote the wellness and safety of the LGBTQ+ community in Gainesville,” she said. “If we host an event that attracts thousands of people from all over North Florida, we won’t be doing that.”
Perry-Lunardo said she believes the LGBTQIA community is particularly sensitive to the issues of the pandemic because of its history with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. To queer people who were alive during that period in history, she said, COVID-19 feels familiar.
Tayler King, a 20-year-old UF biology junior and external VP of UF’s Pride Student Union, said her organization planned on working with PCCNCF for this year’s festival.
“It's very important to have a pride celebration because the LGBTQ+ community exists everywhere,” King said. “And it's especially important here because we are a college town, and college students need a place to express themselves.”
But King understands the justification for canceling pride because she believes it’s a necessary step to protect the community.
“Not enough people are getting vaccinated and taking care of themselves, and our government and the state of Florida are just not doing the means necessary to actually protect our people,” she said.
Perry-Lunardo said PCCNCF will now work with volunteers to create safe alternatives for celebrating October’s LGBTQ+ Pride History Month. It will start with publishing the annual Pride Guide to showcase local businesses that are LGBTQ-owned or allied.
The organization is also planning a screening of a documentary called “Behind Closed Doors: The Dark Legacy of the Johns Committee” at the “McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida” exhibit at the Matheson History Museum.
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a second-year journalism student and the East Gainesville Reporter. This is her second semester at The Alligator, and she is excited to continue her work at the Metro desk. In her spare time, she enjoys eating her way around Gainesville.