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Alliance for the Arts hosts the SWFL Pride Festival in Fort Myers

EN Photo / Georgette French

Three colorfully-dressed men with painted faces and rainbow flag-capes, laughed together after a beautiful transvestite took the stage to lip sing to P!nk’s “Funhouse.”

DJ Madmel and B103.9 provided the music for contestants who lip sang for money that would go toward the SWFL Pride parade. The parking lot of the parade was completely filled with guests who had to park on the street just to attend.

People all over Lee and Collier counties were invited to come out and show their colors in support for the LBGT community on Oct. 8 at the Alliance for the Arts in downtown Fort Myers where the theme of the year was “Equality Needs You.”

For the first time this year, the Pride of SWFL were able to extend their festival two hours later than normal, though security was tight throughout the event. This year marked the 8th year for the SWFL pride event.

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Pride Festival
EN Photo / Georgette French

Police officers searched any bags that were brought into the festival grounds and then tagged with a rainbow band to identify them.

This security measure comes on the heels of the recent hate crimes towards the LGBT community, such as the Pulse shooting and the attempted bombing of the Pride Parade in California.

Despite the security measures, guests weren’t hindered in what they could do. Many people came to enjoy the food, music and entertainment.

The festival allowed guests to come out and show their support and connect with those in the LGBT community – guests like Mariann Gwinn

“I’m here to support for my daughter,” said Gwinn, a single mother to Kiyana Gwinn – a freshman at the San Diego State University in California. “She came out as bisexual last year while we were shopping for prom dresses and I wanted to cry.”

Gwinn explains that she was raised in a Christian home that frowns upon the idea of homosexuality, so when her daughter came out to her, she didn’t know how to feel or what to expect.

She especially didn’t know how to react when Kiyana brought home her first girlfriend.

“I just tried to be open to everything. It was a lot, but I think what helped me cope was knowing that she [Kiyana] was okay,” Gwinn said. “It’s a small step, but I’m trying.”

Now, Gwinn shows her support for the LGBT community by attending festivals like the SWFL Pride Fest, where she facetimes her daughter to show her the dancers and singers on the stage. She says that’s how they have begun to bond.

Pride Festival
EN Photo / Georgette French

Along with Gwinn, students who identified themselves as a part of the LGBT community, mothers with their children, fathers, and all manner of other people from all walks of life and all manner of personality and style attended the event.

Several vendors who support the LGBT community through charity work, dressed up to show pride in being a part of a community that has accomplished so much and yet, received so much hate.

To show their support and rise above the violence, guests could donate money at any of the vendors available, ranging from food stands to souvenirs.

One vendor, the Pride of SWFL, sold T-shirts for $10 to help raise money for the LGBT community and to cover costs from this year’s event as well as the preparations for next year’s event.

Aside from donations, guests could also decorate posters to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Orlando shooting, as a reminder that, despite the pride the community felt, they still had a long way to go before they are fully accepted.

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