Bradenton welcomes gay community to first Manatee County Pride Festival

Bradenton welcomes gay community to first Manatee County Pride Festival

jdeleon@bradenton.comMarch 23, 2014 

BRADENTON -- There was music, food, beer and good times being had Saturday afternoon as people came out to show their pride at the first Manatee County Pride Festival.

"It's about time," Garry Tillis said. "Times are changing; we are getting there."

Sitting near the music stage and sipping on a cold beer at Bradenton's Riverwalk, Tillis was enjoying the inaugural festival, he said.

"We moved down from North Florida, Panama City and this kinda thing is a long way off up there," Tillis said.

An organized, statewide push to advocate for equality and gay rights helped make the event possible, he said.

"I am really glad to see so many people here," Tillis said. "It's going to keep getting bigger and bigger."

The Manatee County Pride Festival was organized by Prism, a

Bradenton nonprofit that provides services for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, as well as those who may be questioning their gender identity or sexual preference.

Organizers were very pleased Saturday with the event's turnout, which they said was beyond their expectations.

"We are thrilled it was such a success," said Melissa Rhodes, Prism outreach coordinator.

It was a mixed crowd in attendance, she said. Organizers estimated about 1,500 people were there midway through the four-hour festival.

"Everyone really wants to know how they can get involved with the youth and what the donations will go towards," Rhodes said.

All the money raised from Saturday's event will go to Prism, "so we can provide more services to the youth," Rhodes said.

Many people out came to support the event's mission, including Karen Bond, there with her sister and her cousin, Cindy Purohit.

"We are not lesbians, but I'm here with my sister, and she really wanted to come out and support Manatee Pride," Bond said.

The ladies were enjoying the festival's music as well as the location, they said.

"This is really a beautiful place for this," Bond said. "The weather is prefect. It's a beautiful day."

For Robert Clements, it wasn't his first time at a pride festival.

"It's nice," Clements said. "I'm from Clearwater, and I usually go to the St. Pete Pride Fest."

Clements was happy to see so many people attend in support of awareness.

"There are people of all faces, sizes, color, religion and sexuality," Clements said. "There are all walks of life."

Clements was also pleased with the atmosphere that the Bradenton Riverwalk provided.

Ashley Mollette and her daughter were enjoying the music and fun at Saturday's festival.

"I came down here for the water, but I had some friends here," Mollette said. "It's not bad."

After never getting to attend Sarasota's Pride Festival as she had hoped, Mollette said she was happy she made it to Bradenton's first.

"I think it's great, everybody is so happy," Mollette said. "It's good, there is no fighting, everybody is just having a good time."

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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