Original Story on News-Press.com
A sea of rainbows flooded Cambier Park in Naples on Saturday afternoon.
Rainbow flags large and small waved through the air, with some worn as capes while others were on shirts and stuck in people’s hair. There were rainbow bandanas on dogs, rainbow balloons, rainbow tutus, rainbow-colored flower leis and crowns.
Organizers estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people of all ages gathered in the downtown park for Naples Pride, the city's first Pride festival celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning communities.
“Today is about Naples Pride and about what all of you contribute to our community,” Naples Mayor Bill Burnett told the crowd at the start of the festival. “It is my hope it becomes an annual event for many years to come.”
Naples Pride featured music, performances and speeches throughout the day from groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Chorus of Southwest Florida, dancers from the Southwest Florida Burlesque Alliance, and the Bambusa Babes, drag queens who regularly perform at the Bambusa Bar and Grill in Naples.
Although the event was free, volunteers and organizers took donations to create an emergency fund that will help at-risk and in-need members of the LGBTQ community in Collier County. Michelle Hudson, a Naples Pride organizer and publisher of the LGBTQ publication Rainbow Pages, said money may help people with medical bills or pay for rent if someone is evicted.
In the Cambier Park crowd, which grew around the stage, spilled onto sidewalks and surrounded tents of vendors, was Naples resident Greg Gorman and his husband, David Burke. Gorman held the leashes of his two dogs, McTavish and Wickliff, who wore rainbow bandannas and tiny rainbow hats.
Boy BryBry, from left, Josh Q., and Casey Cappelen dance. "I had no sleep last night," said BryBry. "I'm just glad Naples has a chance to express their love." (Photo: Photos by Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)
“I am excited that out of 26 years living in Naples, this is our first Pride. I think it’s awesome,” Gorman said. “I think it’s a greater reach out to our community, showing we can all live in equality and we can all live in harmony and we can all coexist.”
Sitting on a lawn chair next to a sign that read “1 World, City, Family, Love, Heart, Pulse” was North Naples resident Jessye McPherson, 55.
McPherson saw the message on a sign when she visited Orlando last year after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. She brought her own sign with the message to Naples Pride to remember the victims. She began to cry as she spoke.
“It’s taken a long time,” McPherson said about Naples Pride. “I think it’s pretty exciting to see this today.”
Naples residents Victoria Castillo, 20, Adrianna Leon, 23, and Joshua Moses, 25, were surprised by the size of the crowd at the festival.
“It shows we're supporting each other as human beings and not looking at everyone by gender,” Castillo said. “I think that’s really cool that we get to be a part of this.”
“We’ve never seen this kind of acceptance in this community,” Moses said. “This is kind of surprising to me, to all of us.”
North Naples residents and friends Kara Kouloheras, 38, and Stacey Dooney brought their daughters to Naples Pride to show them the support in the community.
Kouloheras said when she first arrived at Cambier Park with her 9-year-old daughter, she began to tear up from seeing the crowd.
“In big cities you may see this all the time, but we are finally seeing this in Naples,” she said. “I looked at my daughter and thought maybe there is better in the future for her.”
Nicole Manguao, of Golden Gate, blows bubbles during the first-ever Naples Pride at Cambier Park Saturday in Naples. (Photo: Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)
Dooney, who was taking photos of Naples Pride and sending them to her friends, said she wanted her twin 9-year-old daughters to experience the festival because they are the future.
“I just want them to see it doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe,” she said. “Love is love, and people should be able to be who they are.”
Toward the end of the event, former U.S. soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach and her wife, New York Times bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton, spoke to the crowd. Doyle Melton and Wambach, who live in Naples, were married in May.
“I hope this is an example and evidence to everyone that we are here and belong here in Naples,” Wambach told a cheering crowd from the stage. “I want everyone in this community to be proud to be here in Naples.”
Doyle Melton read a message she received from a girl named Alexa, who was at Naples Pride, and wrote that she was in love with her best friend.
“You have one job in this precious life, to love and be loved,” Doyle Melton told the crowd.
“We will fight out loud for you, Alexa, and then we will love out loud,” she said.
For Pride organizer Hudson, the event Saturday was two months in the making.
"When I first stepped up on the stage and started taking pictures of the crowd, that’s when it hit me that this is really something special," Hudson said.