Gulfport Celebrates First Official Pride March

The permitted sidewalk march poured spontaneously onto Beach Boulevard led by District 69 Florida Representative Jennifer Webb, left, and Vice Mayor Paul Ray, both of Gulfport. Between them, they carried the official title banner of the march. Ray and Webb are openly gay elected officials. Wesley Ray, Paul’s spouse, coined the official title, “Friends of Dorothy March.”

It was a collaborative idea that began with three people and then with a few weeks notice to the public, it evolved organically into a history-making event for hundreds who made it a point of pride to participate.

First, people gathered just across the street from the historic Casino Ballroom, 5500 Shore Boulevard S. The city permit stated it was to be a sidewalk march adjacent to Beach Boulevard, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.

Next, the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band chose the west sidewalk to get into formation.

At about 6 p.m., on Thursday, May 30, the first official Gay Pride Friends of Dorothy March began in Gulfport as a grassroots event.

Within one block, the exuberance poured onto the street. Traffic stopped. People watched from vehicles and verandas. A local business owner handed out cold bottles of water. Multiple journalists from three press outlets followed the action with cameras. And, the band began playing the “Village People – YMCA” song.

Then, the flashing lights of a law enforcement squad vehicle lit up the route as Gulfport Police Officer Zack Mills led marching participants up the street to the annual Gay Pride flag raising ceremony held immediately afterward at the city’s library. He was smiling all the way.

Suzie King, owner of SIK Promotions, left, enjoys the historical energy of Gulfport’s first Gay Pride march with artist Shaun Silverleaf, who is holding a flag in support of those who identify as transgender. Both are from Gulfport.

Many attendees wore red shoes to pay homage to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising of 1969 because Gulfport Vice Mayor Paul Ray had put the word out. For decades, it has been common for gay men and lesbians to clandestinely identify each other by asking in code, “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” The reference points to Dorothy Gale, the heroine in the 1939 Wizard of Oz classic movie who thought her power to overcome adversity came from wearing magical ruby slippers. Today, in addition to those identifying as LGBTQ, gay rights supporters also wear red shoes. Pictured, from left, are the shoes of two local models who participated in the march: Gulfport Gecko Queen Jon Ziegler and artist Denise O’Hara.

As a march participant, Greg Stemm of Gulfport, left, donned a Gay Pride rainbow colored wig as part of his costume and also wielded a neon-colored bubble making gun to add to the festive atmosphere. Stemm, along with Vice Mayor Paul Ray, came up with the idea to have the city’s first Gay Pride march.

Members of the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band played “Village People – YMCA” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as theme songs for marchers and those who gathered immediately afterward at the annual Gay Pride flag raising ceremony at the local library.



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