Polk Pride looks to make its third year the biggest one yet

By : Jeremy Williams
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LAKELAND – Nestled on the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa, many visitors don’t realize that Lakeland has quite an LGBTQ presence in Polk County.

“That was never more evident than that first year we held Polk Pride in 2015,” Dustin Shay, a Polk Pride executive committee member, says. “We were thinking we would have like 200 people and it ended up being 3,000. It was great. The following year Pride in 2016 we ended up having around 5,000, so this year we are really hoping to blow it out since we have gotten a little bit more exposure.”

Lakeland isn’t the largest city in the Tampa Bay or Central Florida area, but like many towns in and around these areas that hold annual Pride celebrations like Bradenton, Sarasota and Kissimmee (who held their first Pride this year); that is all the more reason why Pride events are so important.

“It helps to build and show a sense of community,” Shay says. “I think our goal in putting this together initially back in 2015 was to give the local community a Pride event for everyone— all ages, all backgrounds—and an opportunity to be entertained. Also, just to be able to bring everyone together, we wanted to stop people from thinking they had to go to Tampa and Orlando to find their Pride and community.”

Polk Pride is an event of the Lakeland Youth Alliance. The whole idea rose from the partnership between LYA and PFLAG of Polk County who wanted to encourage the LGBTQ youth to find a home amongst their local LGBTQ population. Polk Pride grew, and continues to grow, from that idea.

It’s this idea that has caused Polk Pride to kick off each Pride year with an event geared toward the youth, and this year is no exception.

Polk Pride starts with our Pride for Youth event and it’s for ages 13-20,” Shay says. “It’s a safe space where the youth of the LGBTQ community can celebrate Pride week. That night we are having a local artist come in, who will be donating his time to the youth, and the kids will be able to create their own artwork which will then be displayed and sold at Pride in the Park to raise money which will go directly back to the LYA. They can paint anything they want to— rainbow flags, themselves, unicorns; it doesn’t matter.”

Pride for Youth is June 14 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Lakeland’s St. David’s Episcopal Church. Polk Pride continues the following night with a faith-based event from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Beacon Hill Fellowship in Lakeland.

“Pride in Faith is all the LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming faith organizations in Polk County and they will be having an inter-faith worship service. The event is open to any and everyone who wants to come out and celebrate regardless of religious affiliation or belief. The service will be overseen by representatives from five separate faith organizations June 15,” Shay says.

Standup comedian Fortune Feimster (you can read Watermark’s one-on-one interview with Feimster on page 45) takes the stage June 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the LkldLive in Lakeland.

Saturday is the big day. Pride in the Park will be June 17 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Munn Park in Lakeland.

“We don’t have a parade but we have a terrific festival which is going to be a lot of fun,” Shay says.

The festival will feature 55 vendors, four food trucks and an entertainment stage with various forms of performances including a Pride-themed drag show hosted by drag queen Kathryn Nevets, local singers and performers, interactive performances and maybe even a few surprises.

“The evening concludes with Pride After Dark later that night from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. at LkldLive,” Shay says. “That is Polk Pride’s official closing party and it is essentially a club night. We will have cocktails, drag, dancing; all kinds of fun stuff going on that night.”

For more information on Polk Pride events and organizations, visit PolkPrideFL.com.

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