Hundreds of people, including families, children and young adults, celebrated equality on Saturday at the largest LGBTQ pride event ever held in downtown Panama City.
“We’ve had numerous parties, pride pageants, events out in the community, but nothing on this scale,” said William Shurbutt, member of the Bay County LGBTQ Center, which sponsored the festival. “This is historic for Panama City.”
Roughly 500 people attended the inaugural Bay Pride Fest at McKenzie Park, Shurbutt said. He says he was pleased to see so many young people at the event. “This is giving them an environment to be their true authentic self, without judgment, without fear,” he said. “It’s important for young people to know that there’s a community out here who’s got their back.”
Last year, the county's LGBTQ Center opened its doors, providing peer support groups for youth, parents, young adults and transgender people. “The center itself provides the only safe space for 13-to 18-year-old youth from Tallahassee to Pensacola to meet for support group,” he said.
At the festival, Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki issued a proclamation designating June 8 as Bay Pride Day. “His words reassured us that we’re welcome,” Shurbutt said. “Panama City is catching up with the rest of the nation — this is an example of it.”
Alongside next year’s Pride Fest, the Center plans to organize a parade, Shurbutt said. “Our goal is to have a bigger and better festival than this one.”
Shurbutt, who moved to Panama City 32 years ago, says in that time he’s witnessed tremendous progress for the LGBTQ community.
“When I first showed up in town, there were still gay men being murdered,” he said. “Here we are today in the park celebrating people being their authentic selves.”