Gulfport Plans First Gay Pride March

It’s about inclusiveness,” said Gulfport Vice Mayor Paul Ray who is also serving as the city’s grand marshal in the first local Gay Pride march on Thursday evening, May 30.

People will begin gathering at 5:30 p.m. outside the Casino Ballroom, 5500 Shore Boulevard, he said, and the march will begin at 6 p.m. It will go up Beach Boulevard to the Gay Pride flag raising ceremony at the south side of the Gulfport Public Library, 5501 28th Ave. S. Immediately afterward, the annual ArtOut display inside the library for the month of June will open with a ceremony featuring more than a dozen local artists who identify as LGBTQ in addition to those who are supportive.

June is known as Gay Pride or LGBTQ Pride month and this year it also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City’s Greenwich Village that began late on Friday, June 27, 1969. Most historians consider the incident where gays took a stand and fought back against a police raid at the bar as the spark of the modern Gay Pride movement, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation website.

Sources vary on the details of the uprising but one popular nuance loosely ties the New York City funeral of acting legend and gay icon Judy Garland that occurred earlier in the day on the upper east side with the emotions that later resulted in the actions at Stonewall.

No matter, it’s all about symbolism over time, said Ray. And, that’s where the red shoes come in.

“I’ve been asking people to wear ruby slippers” for the march, said Ray. Garland played the lead in a 1939 MGM classic, “The Wizard of Oz” where her character, Dorothy Gale, had experiences of not fitting in and getting into trouble with her dog. Dorothy thought her power to overcome adversity came from wearing magical ruby slippers.

According to the Urban Dictionary, it has been common for decades for gay men and lesbians to clandestinely identify each other by asking in code, “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” 

More broadly, calling for local people to wear red shoes in the march is a way for Ray to playfully inspire people to participate.

“It’s a challenge to see who will have the best ruby slippers,” he said.

Jon Ziegler, Gulfport’s current Gecko Queen, and at least two other local notables are getting their shoes ready, he said.

Leading the march and setting the audible tone will be The Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band playing “Over the Rainbow,” he said. The music was written for the movie and was sung by Garland, later becoming her signature song.

Ray along with District 69 Florida Representative Jennifer Webb of Gulfport are scheduled to speak at the Gay Pride flag raising.

“Gulfport is a great place. We have such a diverse and very large LGBTQ community,” said Ray.

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