The Gainesville community is hosting a variety of different events to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride. 

To educate women and empower young LGBTQ+ community members, a local pride center will introduce two new programs. They start as soon as this month.  

The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida will partner with the Gainesville Police Department for the first time to implement Rape Aggression Defense classes to teach defense options for women. This is also the first time the center will host the Pride Youth Leadership Academy, a three-day retreat-style program for young LGBTQ+ members in Alachua County. 

The free women’s self-defense class will take place Jan. 27, 28 and 30 from 6-10 p.m. Nationally certified instructors from GPD will teach a range of tactics, including verbal techniques and escaping from chokeholds, said Jorge Campos, a Gainesville Police spokesperson. 

The pride center introduced the class to empower women by teaching them personal safety, said Terry Fleming, the pride center’s co-president. If the classes are successful, Fleming said the center will host more. 

LGBTQ+ people often face higher rates of poverty, stigma and marginalization, putting its community members at a greater risk for sexual assault, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization working to achieve equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Fleming said a member of the pride center’s board brought up the idea of the self-defense classes in a meeting, so the board asked the police department if it is willing to collaborate to host the classes. 

“Anything that improves the safety and security of women and female-identified members of the community is good for the community overall,” Fleming said.

In February, the pride center will also host its first Pride Youth Leadership Academy. The program is aimed to teach, inspire and prepare LGTBQ+ youth from Alachua County. Instructors will teach sessions on the history of LGBTQ+ people, healthy sex, body image and intersectionality, Fleming said. 

The program will run from Feb. 7-9. High school students can register for $30, and the pride center provides scholarships to waive the fee. 

“We are excited to offer this program and looking forward to it,” Fleming said. “We’ve had a number of registrants already and are looking forward to having more. We do believe that this is an incredibly important program for LGBTQ+ youth.”

UF students are lucky to benefit from being at an institution that funds programs for LGBTQ+ students, said Georges Obayi, the president of UF’s Pride Student Union and a 21-year-old UF industrial and systems engineering senior. He said it’s an amazing idea for the pride center to create these opportunities for young LGBTQ+ students in Gainesville who may not have other chances to do so.  

“There’s so much to know before you start to navigate the world and unfortunately, the current status of our education system doesn’t fully cater to the needs of LGBTQ+ folks,” Obayi said. “It’s wonderful to see that members of the community are giving back in order to set up a proper structure and resources for these individuals.”

Contact Valentina Botero at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @lvbotero_.