NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. | Pasco Pride will make history Oct. 6 by holding its inaugural LGBTQ Pride festival at Sims Park in New Port Richey, the first in Pasco County.
“The goal of Pasco Pride is to connect, build and strengthen the LGBTQ+ community,” the organization’s mission statement reads. “We will foster communication, tolerance, education and mutual support among LGBTQ+ persons and the allied communities of Pasco County.”Planning for the celebration began in January, after its founder and president Denise Johnson saw a need for fellowship and support in the area. “I moved here about a year and a half ago and I thought I’d died and gone to LGBT heaven with everything going on in Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater,” she muses. “There were so many things happening for the LGBT community.
“Then I quickly realized I couldn’t afford to drive there all the time,” Johnson recalls. “I knew there was a community in Pasco County. I’ve lived all over the world; there’s a community everywhere.”
The retired law enforcement officer and veteran subsequently launched an LGBTQ support group in the area, laying the groundwork for Pride. “As this was growing, I’m talking to people and asking about starting a Pride festival,” she says, “and I was told that wouldn’t happen in Pasco. Well, when you tell a Texas girl no, that just means it’s time to get busy.”
She did. Johnson researched the process for establishing Pasco Pride and says that to her surprise, she met no resistance from local businesses or government officials.
“They didn’t even raise an eyebrow,” she says. “They all said it was about time something like this happened.”
Pasco Pride’s executive board was quickly formed. In addition to Johnson, it includes Executive Vice President Nina Borders, Secretary Elizabeth Saltigerald, Treasurer Marc Coron and Heather St. Amand, member at large.
“How did we find these people? We didn’t,” Johnson says. “They found us. In the course of meeting with all of these people that have become so supportive of Pasco Pride, several stepped up to be even more involved.”
“We’re not just bringing the LGBT community to the heart of New Port Richey, we’re bringing everybody from all walks of life,” Borders says. “Black, White, Asian, LGBT; people of all sorts. To have this kind of festival and to be allowed to have it here, which has a deep-rooted history in conservatism, religion and not being too open to minorities … that’s huge.”
The festival will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Sims Park, dubbed “the people’s park” by the city. For its inaugural theme of “PROUD,” the board was adamant that the festival maintain a family-friendly atmosphere.
“We’ve shown New Port Richey that we are about building bridges and incorporating diversity,” Johnson notes. “We feel like that’s what Pride is all about: everyone being a part of one great, big happy family.”
The festival will feature up to 70 vendors, with children’s activities and entertainment from the organization’s official DJ and two live bands — area favorites Julie Black and Bad Rabbit. Attendees will also meet the first Miss and Mister Pasco Pride, as well as Miss Pasco Pride Diva.
“I want people to understand the magnitude of this,” Borders says. “This is big. We’re bringing something to Pasco County that’s never been here; something that people have never wanted until now but was definitely needed.
“There’s such a negative connotation with Pasco,” she adds. “We’re working to change that and let people see how beautiful this place is.”