Live and let live.
The spirit of this motto still shines in Gulfport, Susan Gore believes, despite news of a recent hate crime mass shooting in Colorado Springs, CO. Gore, a Gulfport resident and president of the LGBTQ Resource Center at the library, said Gulfport is quite unlike other places which struggle to coexist with their LGBTQ communities.
“Gulfport is an example of ‘live and let live’ and embracing differences,” Gore said. “Gulfport has been called P-town South or Ann Arbor South. Those who know understand those references.”
On Nov. 19, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, killed five and wounded nearly 20 others with an AR-15-style rifle at a Colorado gay night club.
Carly Russell said the news of the shooting did not have her think twice after her safety living in an openly gay community or working at a restaurant, such as Stella’s on Beach Ave, with the gay pride flag displayed by its front door.
“That’s what I know about Gulfport,” Russell said. “When people from out of town ask, I tell them they are just going to have to get used to it.”
According to estimates by the organizers of the Gulfport Peace, Love and Pride Festival, which is scheduled for March 12, 2023, about 30% of Gulfport’s 12,000 residents are LGBTQ. And they can feel safe here, said four-year resident David Henderson.
“Anything can happen anywhere, but hate and violence just don’t come to mind when you look at Gulfport,” said Henderson, who lives on 23rd Street South. “When you look around here, you’re probably going to see men holding hands or women hugging. But it’s 2022 and it’s Gulfport, so it is what it is.”
Along with Gulfport hosting a pride festival, Gore said support of the local LGBTQ community can also be seen with the growth of the library’s resource center, the first of its kind in Florida. Its collection has grown from 250 to more than 10,000 publications since 2015, hosting weekly LGBTQ-related events and expanding from one to three scholarships.
“We have a lot going on for us here,” Gore said.
Local ordinances and awards have also recognized Gulfport’s LGBTQ community over the years.
The library was the third recipient of the Newlen-Symons Award in 2018 for its excellence in serving the LGBT community. Gulfport was the first city in Pinellas County to pass a domestic partnership registry in 2012, and the city passed a human rights ordinance in 2005 to protect residents, visitors, and employees from all forms of discrimination.
Some gay bars in St. Pete host events, such as drag shows, similar to the ones held at the Colorado Springs gay bar, but the owners at Cocktail St. Pete on Central Avenue said patrons can be assured of their safety. The club employs an additional five security guards on the weekend, some of whom are trained in mass shooter response, and every ID is scanned and kept on file in case there are any issues.
“Plus we have security cameras everywhere,” said Lee, one of the Cocktail owners.