At 11 a.m., a parade featuring floats from parade sponsors, Democratic political candidates and organizations and LGBTQ groups went down East State Street. Then attendees broke off to enjoy food, drinks, a bounce house and entertainment at two stages on the street.
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This Pridefest is the first since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled plans from 2019 until now. Space Coast Pride puts on one of the larger pride festivals in Florida, regularly bringing more than 1,000 attendees.
The event was the subject of some controversy earlier in the week when State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, called upon the city of Melbourne to revoke the permit to prevent a “drag queen story hour” from taking place. Drag queens were scheduled to read children’s books three times during the event.
Fine said the event was inappropriate for children because drag queens are adult entertainers. He wrote a letter to the city saying officials could terminate the event’s license because it did not disclose that drag queens would be reading to children.
Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey stood behind the event, saying the city would be violating organizers’ First Amendment rights if they halted the event over a drag queen story hour.
At least two protesters attended the event. One man with a bike and a flag who had covered his face entirely with white cloth attempted to speak during the parade; a police officer on a motorcycle drowned him out by revving his engine. Two attendees in rainbow gear tailed him, taunting him to take off his mask.
Another man with a microphone preached on the street later about the biblical meaning of the rainbow and warned them that they need to reject the LGBTQ lifestyle in order to achieve eternal salvation, earning jeers from the crowd.
But by 1 p.m., the event had so far gone off without a hitch, said Tina Jensen, media director for Space Coast Pride.
“I’ve been listening on my walkie-talkie and there’s been nothing but love,” Jensen said.
Tents crowded East State Street with booths from local businesses, large corporations, progressive organizations and LGBTQ community groups. The main stage displayed photos of the 49 people killed in the 2016 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, a club frequented by LGBTQ patrons.
“We have to remember why we do pride,” Jensen said. “It’s fun, and it’s a party, and God, do we deserve a break. But people forget the history.”
Jensen said the festival honors the LGBTQ people who fought hard to earn rights for present-day lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Many were drag queens and transgender people of color, she said. While the community has come a long way since the 1960s, Jensen said there’s still work to be done.
“LGBTQ people deserve equality and the pursuit of happiness like everyone else,” Jensen said. “They deserve a place to feel welcome. And sometimes, it takes watching a drag queen perform to make that happen.”
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