For far too long the northwest Florida LGBT community had been without organized leadership, leaving us without the strategic plan, strong voice, visibility, or presence to address the many inequalities we face based solely on our sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
When, in 2008, the proponents of Florida Amendment 2 sought to once again categorically deny same gender couples the right to marry, a growing number of persons became engaged in the fight for marriage equality. Losing the November 4, 2008 election battle dramatically illustrated that misunderstanding, fear, and prejudice had again stood in the way of fairness and equality for Florida's LGBT community. On November 15, 2008, over 100 members of our Gulf Coast LGBT community, in true grassroots fashion, came together in downtown Pensacola to publicly demonstrate our sadness and anger that once again we had been marginalized and devalued. Out of this rally questions arose as to why we had never organized efforts to focus through non-partisan political action the advancement of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We saw the potential to create an out and proud LGBT organization that would include a strong advocacy component.
Over the next week, a small group of activists decided that the time was right to start weeding out hatred and discrimination through such action. With the idea of sowing, tending, and harvesting the seeds of understanding, respect, and equality, grew what was to become an organization appropriately named Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida. The first order of business was to draft a mission statement that would reflect its goals: To bring together non-partisan activists to advocate for full understanding, respect, equality, and inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons living in Northwest Florida. Our plan was simple: remain focused on our four mission platforms, strengthen our community, and have fun.
In June 2009, we assumed the role of publisher of a monthly newsletter which we expanded and re-named Rainbow Blades.
In less than four months, Gay Grassroots brought back a lengthened pride festival to Pensacola which we re-branded PensacolaPRIDE. This seven-day event saw record attendance with weekly events drawing 50-75 people and the Festival in the Park reaching a 1,200 person peak at one point during the day. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of a small band of volunteers, PensacolaPRIDE ended up in the black as well as being the most successful pride event any LGBT organization has ever produced in Pensacola.
Having proven that Gay Grassroots could throw a great party, attention turned to incorporating further advocacy into the mix. In January 2010, Gay Grassroots leaders visited with Representative Jeff Miller's Chief Aide on behalf of an inclusive Employment non-Discrimination Act. In February 2010, we collaborated in efforts with ally groups to successfully get The University of West Florida to add sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to its anti-discrimination policies. In March of 2010, we sent a delegation to Tallahassee to lobby at the state capitol in opposition to the ban on adoptions by gay persons, which lead to its first floor debate in 33 years, and ultimately lead to it being ruled unconstitutional.
On April 14, 2010, we partnered with the University of West Florida's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), the Panhandle Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the national Human Rights Campaign (HRC), to bring the "Voices of Honor" tour to Pensacola, which featured a panel of U.S. service members who had served under the unjust "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
On October 11, 2010, National Coming Out Day during PensacolaPRIDE 2010, we hosted the area's first candidate forum on LGBT equality issues. Over 45 people attended this forum, which featured 12 city and county office seekers. This was the first organized event designed to get candidates to go on the record with their understanding (or lack) of LGBT issues and how they would address LGBT concerns if elected.
On October 16, 2010, also during PensacolaPRIDE 2010, we hosted the area's first Mass Gay Wedding. Fifteen same-gender couples, plus one straight couple who wanted to show their support for marriage equality, This "Wedding of Hearts" allowed couples to publicly declare their love and commitment to each other. This event also was covered extensively in local print and broadcast media.
On November 1, 2010, we relocated the Equality House (now closed) to a larger and improved location, 317 North Spring Street, Pensacola. This new location was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and increased parking and a more flexible floor plan. On September 12, 2011, Equality House (now closed) moved to 18 South DeVilliers Street, Pensacola. This move was precipitated by our desire to ensure that the LGBT Community Center we had envisioned was able to continue in a manner that best served the community. The prior collaboration with OASIS had become unproductive as our two organizations' missions (GGNWFL is LGBT focused while OASIS is HIV/AIDS focused) no longer fit well together as OASIS wanted to change our agreed upon method of operations to one which would force Gay Grassroots to take a much more subordinate role rather than maintain an equal partnership. This separation allowed Equality House (now closed) to move forward with its mission "To provide a safe, comfortable, and welcoming space to serve as the social, educational, resource, and networking hub for the Pensacola area LGBT Community". Operation of Equality House was guided, operated, and funded solely by members of the local LGBT community who shared our common goals.
As impressive at this sounds, this is only the beginning. Our future growth and success depend on you. We invite you to become a part of what lies ahead. To learn more about our advocacy goals, click here.
We understand that not everyone is ready to take on an advocacy role; however, your paid membership will allow Gay Grassroots to optimally utilize the advocacy skills of those who desire to participate in that arena. To learn more about membership options, click here.
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