Pride, praise and cheer kicked off Gay Pride Month at the Gulfport Library on Thursday, May 31. June is Gay Pride Month across the country, chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots in June of 1969. To join in celebration, Gulfport citizens and city officials, including Mayor Sam Henderson and council members, rallied together, raising the gay pride flag in front of the library.
Mayor Henderson stood in the grass before the crowd and told a story about a shirt he’d seen recently that blared an offensive message. It’s something he says he’s proud to know would never be acceptable in Gulfport.
“We don’t stand for those kinds of things here,” he said. The crowd cheered in agreement, donning rainbow attire and fun shirts with messages like “I was a lesbian before it was cool.”
Other speakers on the event’s roster agreed, praising the community for its diversity and acceptance.
“One of the things that makes me proud to be a councilman here in this town is that we may have disagreements between ourselves about things, but we never disagree about who we are,” said Councilmember Michael Fridovich. “That’s what makes me proud,” he said. “Give yourselves a round of applause.”
Paul Ray, Gulfport’s newest councilmember, was the organizer behind the flag raising event. In years past, the flag was flown for the month of June at the library, but never with a formal ceremony.
“Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have seen that, except maybe in San Francisco,” said Ray, talking about the flag in front of the library.
In his speech, Ray also touched on how supportive the community is in Gulfport and said it’s something he hopes the city never loses sight of.
“Reach out and hug each other once in awhile and let people know you really do love them, because that’s what life’s all about, really,” he said.
Jennifer Webb, local candidate for state senate, spoke as well. If elected, Webb will be the first openly LGBT woman in the Florida House of Representatives.
After the flag raising, guests went inside the library to enjoy the 2nd Annual ArtOut, an art show featuring more than twenty artists from the local LGBTQ community. One of those artists, Edie Daly, stood out with a unique medium: a quilt. The piece is named “Old Lesbian Memory Quilt,” and features twelve unique squares, showcasing memories from the artist’s life. Photos include Daly as a child, then with her husband and kids in the 1950s before she came out in 1974, and later with wife Jackie, who she married twenty years ago.
During ArtOut, Daly spoke to the Gabber about the piece.
“I wanted to have stories to tell, especially to my friends and to my children,” she said, in choosing a quilt as her medium. “It’s a story about my activism, on the top. It’s a story about my relationships. It’s a story about my children.”
To create the piece, Daly said she looked back through her own writing.
“What I did was I harvested my journals,” she said. “And I took out stories that I wanted to tell.”
The piece will be on display, alongside the other 19 artists in the gallery at the library, through the end of June.
“There’s a great turnout and some really beautiful art here,” said Barb Zegarek, addressing the crowd at ArtOut. Zegarek was responsible for hanging all of the art for the show.
“And is this the greatest place to live?” she asked the crowd. “Having an LGBTQ library with a proud flag hanging and we can be who we are and artists can show not only their work, but themselves.”
Attendees were equally enthusiastic, touring up and down the display tables while nibbling on cheese and crackers and swirling a bit of wine.
“It’s an excellent exhibition and an excellent example of what’s going on here in Gulfport,” said attendee Kelly Sheehan.
“It’s exciting,” said Elizabeth Hendricks of Gulfport. “I was pleased to hear the library won an award for best LGBTQ library in North America.”
The Gulfport Library took home the honor this year from the The American Library Association, earning the Newlen-Symons Award for Excellence in Serving the GLBT Community. Susan Gore of the LGBTQ Resource Center says the award was based on many criteria points, but the Gulfport Library stood out due to their variety of programming.
“In a normal town, if you want to find gay people, you go to a bar or a gay pride celebration” said Greg Stemm, a team member of the LGBTQ Resource Center. “If you want to find gay people in Gulfport, you come to the public library.”
Art Out is just one event the Gulfport Library will offer in June to celebrate Gay Pride Month. The library will also offer an LGBTQ film viewing, a discussion on the topic “Can I Be Gay and Still Be Spiritual?” as well as an open mic night and poetry slam.
For more information on the city’s LGBTQ events for the month, visit mygulfport.us/gpl.