For two decades, Gainesville pride festivals were a constant. But the COVID-19 pandemic has since halted the in-person celebration.
The annual festival hosted by the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida will return Oct. 22 at Bo Diddley Plaza, nearly a month after the center was vandalized. The center has celebrated Pride in Gainesville every year since 2008 aside from the last two years.
The center faced further problems when the front door and a window were found smashed Sept. 24. A hateful note was also left behind, leading Gainesville police to investigate the vandalism as a hate crime.
Pride Center President Tamára Perry-Lunardo, 42, said the vandalism was a result of the Pride student meetup scheduled for Sept. 27 — an event referenced in the note, which isn’t public as the investigation continues.
The incident won’t stop the center’s activities, she said, including the upcoming festival.
This year, there will be no parade leading up to the festival because of extra expenses like security. After the vandalism, Perry-Lunardo said, the Pride Center will have additional security to ensure the festival is a safe environment.
“It wouldn't be the first time we've seen negative signs and things like that,” Perry-Lunardo said. “But we certainly don't want anyone to feel encouraged by that attack. It was a cowardly and hateful attack.”
To end the night, there’ll also be a dance party alongside a performance from the Gainesville brass band Sooza, which consists of UF School of Music alums and students.
This year’s theme is “We’re here, we’re queer — loud and proud.” It was chosen by the Pride Center’s board of directors as a spin-off from “We’re here, we’re queer. Get used to it,” which was popularized by the activist organization Queer Nation in the 1990s.
Board member and volunteer coordinator Faith Reidenbach, 62, said the theme is very meaningful to her. She came out in 1975 and moved to Florida in 2020, she said.
“I feel like I went back in time at least three decades,” Reidenbach said. “At first, it was only a couple decades and then when the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ came along and book banning — actually, it feels like more than three decades.”
The theme brings the attention back to the LGBTQ+ community, Perry-Lunardo said.
“We don't really want to focus so much on those who would speak against us,” she said. “We want to focus more on our pride as a community.”
On Sept. 27, the center hosted the LGBTQ+ youth event as previously planned. Fourteen students attended, and volunteers stood guard at the boarded-up door.
After the vandalism, the Pride Center took to social media to share photos of the damage and a link for donations. The center received donations amounting to a five-figure total, Perry-Lunardo said.
“It’s really beautiful,” she said. “I'm pretty pleased that it's had the opposite effect than I think was intended.”
The last Pride festival was in 2019 and had its highest turnout to date, according to the late Pride Center President Terry Fleming. Fleming died April 28, 2020, and this year’s Pride festival will be the first without him.
“God bless him, Terry did everything himself,” Perry-Lunardo said. “A lot of the preparations have been taking what we knew from Terry and the instructions that he left but also kind of reimagining it.”
The festival is being planned by the Pride Center’s five board members, some of whom are balancing other jobs, Reidenbach said. Volunteers will also be there to sell merchandise, help out in the kid’s space, greet vendors and clean up at the end of the night.
The Pride festival will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Those interested in volunteering can sign up online.
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Lauren Brensel is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for The Avenue. She is also a writer for Her Campus UFL and The GEN-ZiNE. In her free time, she is often found making Spotify playlists and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.