Pensacola Celebrates Pride Despite Tragedy

Jun 20, 2016

Credit Ted Eytan via Flickr

The mass shooting in Orlando has rattled the LGBT community across the country.  But it hasn’t stopped men and women in Pensacola from celebrating pride week. 

Doug Landreth is president of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida—the organizers of Pensacola’s Pride week.  It wrapped up Saturday. 

He says over the past few years they’ve expanded the celebration from three all the way to eight days of events.  This year they kicked off with a festival in Seville Square Park and Landreth says attendance was better than ever. 

“It was extremely festive,” Gay Grassroots’ treasurer Donna Stough says.  “Lots of music, lots of dancing, eating, drinking.  It was a blast—it was a huge party.” 

“And then the next morning we woke up to the news that everyone else woke up to,” she says of the mass shooting in Orlando.

“Unfortunately that’s become kind of commonplace,” Louis Cooper says, “they happen.”

Cooper is one of the committee members helping organize events for Pride.

“I didn’t hear any details or anything,” he goes on, “and then I heard that it might be terrorism related and so that got my attention.  And then I heard it was at a gay a club and that really got my attention, and I was glued to the TV all morning.”

Geographically at least, Pensacola is far removed from Orlando.  It’s closer to places like New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean the attack didn’t hit close to home. 

Isea Ray works at a local gay bar called Emerald City.

“I mean I’m still worried sometimes and it’s just like a quick thought that pops into my head,” Isea Ray says.  He works at a local gay bar called Emerald City.

“Like I see someone new walk in the door, and I’m like ‘Uhhh…’ right off the bat,” he says. “Like ‘who are you?’”

And for others in the community, the connections run deeper.  Before Mark Byrd and his husband settled in Pensacola, they lived in Orlando, and Byrd says his cousin was at Pulse just hours before the shooting.

“And he decided to leave early.  For some reason, he had a premonition, why he—I don’t—‘I have to leave early,’” Byrd says.  “So he and a friend went and they did some other things in town and roughly two hours later that’s when the gun man came in and shot the living daylights out of everybody.”

But organizers say they were never going to cancel pride.  Instead, Stough got to work pulling together a last minute vigil for Monday night.  

But she says it came with a number of new concerns.

“You couldn’t bring anything that you could conceal anything in,” Stough says, “and it felt strange to have to say that to people when just the day before they could bring anything they want and have a great time in the exact same spot, and now you can’t because now we’ve got to be careful.”

Stough says the vigil was good for the community, but for she and her partner there’s still a lot to untangle. 

“When I turned the car on there was a song playing that we had heard a thousand times,” Stough says, “but all of the sudden it was very different because it had a whole new meaning—and it was talking about I miss my friends, I miss my mother.”

The song was Adele’s “A Million Years Ago.” 

“We didn’t think about what we always thought about when we heard that song before,” Stough goes on, “we thought about what those people were thinking about in their last moments because so many of them texted their mom, and that sort of thing.”  

“The entire attitude of everything we see now, we see in a different light.”