Sarasota – Before she was the face of Sarasota Pride, Cindy Barnes was a landscaper, a motorcycle dealership manager, a DJ and now, a property manager.
But it’s Barnes’ reimagining of Sarasota Pride and her volunteerism that has landed her on this year’s Most Remarkable list.
“I pretty much volunteered ever since I was a child,” she says. “It was just something our family did. We had a recreational lake in our town and my grandfather, on Mondays, said it was dedicated to free swimming lessons. That has been engrained in me. I say, be part of the village or get the hell out.”
Not many people realize that Sarasota Pride just celebrated its 25th anniversary. That’s because, until five years ago, it was an indoor, private event that required a cover charge to experience. That all changed when Barnes took the helm in 2010.
“I went to that first Pride at Trinity MCC and honestly I remember being disappointed that there wasn’t more of a community then,” the Indiana native says. “It wasn’t until 2006 that I did my first volunteer gig with Pride and I was the beer babe at the beer booth. Myself and one other guy showed up. That was it. So we sold beer for six hours.”
In 2009 she joined the board, in 2010, she introduced Sarasota to its first Pride at JD Hamel Park, along the downtown waterfront. From there, the event has grown to more than 5,000 participants.
“People tell me that Pride was a success this year and, honestly, I have no idea how it happened,” she says. “I’m thrilled to death about that and I hope each year it grows. Next year we’re shaking things up a bit so no one gets complacent. I want to get the word out regionally, and I’m talking about across Florida and Georgia.”
While she organized Sarasota Pride in 2014, Barnes also remained active in fighting for political victories. She was a voice for the Sarasota Domestic Partnership Registry and has helped raise money for Equality Florida, which took on the state of Florida in a monumental lawsuit to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“When we win a fight like the domestic partnership registry, the word ‘gratifying’ doesn’t even touch it,” Barnes says. “When you see that much happen so fast, it’s just amazing. As much struggle as there has been, it’s suddenly happening so easily. The registry is an example. Once we got it over the top it was just slam-bam, done.”
And while that fight may be finished, Barnes is far from stepping back or retiring. In fact, she’s already got a plan in place to celebrate the end of Florida’s marriage equality ban. On Jan. 6, she has same-sex couples lined up to wed on the steps of Sarasota City Hall.
“I have three couples already, and more are welcome to join us,” says Barnes, adding that those couples must get their licenses and required paperwork beforehand. “I already have a pastor in place and a witness ready to stand for them. It’s going to be historic.”
And as far as the rest of 2015 goes, Barnes has a very lofty goal.
“The plan is to create our own LGBT community flag, a flag that will stay with us forever,” she says. “Instead of me trying to get the big flag out of Fort Lauderdale to stretch across the bridge, I plan to offer 10-foot sections of it where corporations and community groups can get their name on it for a sponsorship. It would also work for individuals.”
And those sections would be detachable, Barnes explains, adding that if someone wants to commemorate the life of someone who lost their battle with AIDS, that section could appear at an HIV/AIDS Awareness event, much like panels of the AIDS quilt do.
She also said groups could borrow their own sections of the flag throughout the year if they wanted to display it during a Pride parade or similar event.
“And the great thing about that is it’s forever,” she says. “That person or organization will have their name on it until infinity, and only have to pay the sponsorship once.”
Barnes plans to approach community groups early in the year, so as to not directly conflict with fundraising for Sarasota Pride 2015.
“It’s better to hit the sponsors up twice a year than twice a week,” she jokes. “So I want to hit this early.”