Sarasota Pride to move forward, will honor Pulse victims

By : Krista DiTucci
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SARASOTA – Cindy Barnes has been the face of Sarasota Pride for almost a decade. But a few months ago, Barnes had made the decision to step down as Pride director. However, her plan to resign recently took an unexpected turn.

Edward “Eddie” Sotomayor was one of the 49 victims killed in the Pulse shooting. Sotomayor was a Sarasota native and actively involved in Pride. Just before the shooting, he and Barnes arranged for a lunch meeting the following week to discuss Sarasota Pride’s future and Barnes’ decision not to continue with Pride. Sadly, Sotomayor was killed before the meeting took place.

“I know him well enough that he would have talked me into doing it and would have helped out a lot,” Barnes says. “Well, he’s getting his way because Pride is happening now!”

Barnes says she felt compelled to keep Sarasota Pride going largely due to Sotomayor’s influence. As a result, this year’s Pride flyer features a top hat placed in the upper corner of the “We Are Orlando” slogan, a tribute to Sotomayor who was well-known for his signature top hat.

“He was quite a personality,” Barnes says. “Every time you saw Eddie, it was like you’ve been best friends with him for 100 years. He made you feel warm and accepted.”

Gail Foreman, Sarasota Pride board member and Booker High School teacher, says Sotomayor was a Booker High graduate and was highly respected at the school. Foreman also heads the school’s Gay Straight Alliance and Embracing Our Differences clubs; she says Sotomayor told her he was happy to see the clubs at school because there were no LGBT organizations there when he was a student.

Foreman says many Booker High students and staff volunteer for the Pride Fest each year. This year, Foreman would like to arrange for the arts and visuals club to perform a memorial piece for Sotomayor as well as a piece for the main Pride festivities.

During the memorial, Barnes is planning to display St. Pete Pride’s posters of the 49 Pulse victims. Also, after meeting a Pulse bartender at St. Pete Pride, Barnes says she would like to invite some of the other bartenders from the club to participate in Sarasota Pride.

“I’d like to get them here, if for nothing else but to talk about the Pulse tragedy and share their experience as someone who has been there,” Barnes says. “This is not something people need to forget about.”

Rev. Glo Hoeft, Sarasota Pride board member, encourages community members to bring items of their choosing to present at the memorial.

“We are their (Pulse victims) family and their friends,” Hoeft says. “We are one with those who are wounded, both physically and emotionally.”

Barnes says the Pulse tragedy has drawn a lot of local attention to this year’s Pride Fest. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune doubled their participation and will provide media coverage. So far, Sarasota Pride is almost completely full with major sponsors.

“Of all the years, this is not the year to give this up,” Barnes says. “I did have some people say that maybe we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need Pride anymore because we have marriage equality and other LGBT rights. It didn’t take us long to find out we’ve taken a number of steps back. So we have to be vigilant and keep going.”

Hoeftsays she is happy the event will continue running and would like to see more involvement from male community members in particular. She also says she would like to see increased Pride activities throughout the year.

“I was saddened when Cindy said she wasn’t going to do it anymore,” Hoeft says. “I had been with Sarasota Pride even before Cindy took over. But I understood. She works harder than anyone I’ve ever known.”

Foreman says when Barnes initially discussed stepping down, the two envisioned a more active role from younger community members.

“They don’t understand the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get where we are,” Foreman says. “Cindy is very involved in the clubs with me at the schools and wanted them to appreciate all the people before them who have fought for the rights they have and help them get equality. Maybe we need to wait for the village to get stronger before someone else takes over.”

Hoeft is a living testimony to those who were among the first to fight for LGBT rights. Hoeft, who is 73 and came out in 1961, was arrested in the 1980s during her participation in the National March on Washington and says she came from an era where LGBT people were forced to hide.

“I’m so pleased that today, the younger generations don’t have any qualms about being out,” Hoeft says. “It’s what we’ve been working for all our lives. We can stand up and say, ‘Yes, are proud to be gay and lesbian. We are here and are going to stand together.’”

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