While political storm clouds gathered around the Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival for months, literal storm clouds gathered over Wilton Manors on June 17. Neither were able to stop the party and protest from happening.
While some may have stayed away due to uneasy feelings around the political climate, the intermittent-yet-frequent thunderstorms are likely the reason attendance was drastically down from last year. In 2022, people were nine deep or more along the parade route. This year, you could come and go at will and get right up to the barricades lining the route.
The parade started about 15-30 minutes late, mostly due to safety concerns related to the weather. Lightning and gusty winds made it unsafe at times. But around 8:30 p.m., about halfway through the parade, the rain finally stopped.
Stonewall Pride CEO Jeff Sterling says organizers are very happy with the length of the parade and how it pretty much went on as scheduled.
The political issues were front and center all day. A new law defining “adult entertainment” in Florida is very vague, but is being construed by many to ban drag entertainment in public. After much debate and consternation, drag was present. But the role of drag was more protest than entertainment.
Many queens stood defiantly on floats to the cheers of onlookers. Many people dressed in drag to show support for the community. However, a check of the seven outdoor stages up and down Wilton Drive found more DJs and fewer queens serving as entertainers.
Al Ferguson and FayWhat?! of Happening Out Television and Hotspots Magazine broadcast the parade from the main stage. Afterward, Ferguson told OutSFL that the anger and protest was palpable.
“Perhaps the most important story of Stonewall Pride was the underlying anger. While broadcasting on Apple TV from the main stage, I heard hundreds of people shout anger and slurs about [Ron] DeSantis. That was a reflection of deep protest.”
It’s assumed that supporters of DeSantis were in the crowd, looking for any “gotcha” moment. It will be days or weeks before we know if any formal complaints are filed in relation to the event.
However, Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton is very happy with the weekend.
“Wilton Manors’ annual Stonewall Pride Parade Festival was a huge success. Despite rainy weather, thousands came out to Wilton Drive to celebrate pride.”
Inclusion Is Key
The attack on the drag and trans communities magnified the need for unity.
“It’s more important than ever, given that we’re being attacked left and right,” SunServe CEO Tony Lima said. “We want to show that we’re here and we’re queer and we want to be respected, loved, and uplifted.”
That’s on point for their mission, which serves trans, youth, seniors and more.
“We wanted to show representation of what our community really looks like. We’re all types of types, all in the name of love.”
Mike Connell, owner of Pub On the Drive, echoed those sentiments.
“We want to wish everyone happy Pride, regardless of who you are and where you’re from. Everyone’s welcome at The Pub. Let’s enjoy!”
The trans community also came together, with Transinclusive Group and Arianna’s Center teaming up for a fabulous float.
“The trans community wants to send a message to the whole LGBT community that we can be united,” Arianna Lint, Executive Director of Arianna’s Center, said. “It’s important to show up and be present.”
Nic Zantop of Transinclusive Group, said showing up is more important than ever.
“Rain or sun, our trans community has always been here and we’re always going to be here. There are a lot of folks in the state of Florida that would like to see us erased. But our existence can’t be erased.”
“Our Pride event was especially significant this year and was a unifying moment for our community,” Newton said.
Good For Business
Despite politics and precipitation, the event was a boon for businesses on The Drive. Bars, restaurants, and stores OutSFL talked with are thrilled with the turnout. Eagle Wilton Manors, generally a late-night bar, had a line out the door before 6 p.m. Owner Chuck King said he was seeing a lot of new faces.
“Tons and tons of new faces. Lots of people we’ve never seen before. It’s clear that a lot of people have traveled to town for this event.”
Celebrity Chef Josie Smith Malave owns Bubbles & Pearls. She took a moment between customers and running the Women’s Stage, to marvel at who was in the crowd. She said there were lots of new diners popping in for a little celebration drink and food.
Even pups were getting in on the action. Carlos Kiyatake, the manager at Wag Pride, said he too was seeing a wave of new people.
“Right now it’s nonstop. We’ve seen fifty new customers signing up for the loyalty program, which is good.”
Safe & Secure
Law enforcement from Wilton Manors and other departments worked the parade. WMPD Chief Gary Blocker said there were no arrests related to the event and no reports of violations of the new anti-drag law.
Blocker went on to say the safety plan, months in the making, worked well, from boots on the ground to drones in the air to tech support behind keyboards.
Unofficial estimates put attendance at 40,000. Final attendance numbers and revenue totals are expected to be released later.