Driving along I-10 after Tallahassee Pride, I didn’t know what to expect in Pensacola. As a native Floridian, I’ve been all over the state, except to the little sliver of Florida, where the time changes and the beaches are endless. When I took the position as North Florida Field Organizer, I had already fallen in love with Gainesville and Jacksonville. From the slow pace, the sparkling springs (and caves!), and the savory mix of culture and nature, north Florida slings between the southern charm of Georgia and the eclectic buzz of South Florida. It’s home for me and so many Floridians.
My trip to the panhandle began with a meeting at the Gulf Coast Transgender Alliance, a support group, that serves the panhandle’s Transgender community through community, resources, and friendship. At the meeting, I was delighted to hear our Transgender Inclusion Director Gina Duncan speak on behalf of TransAction, and the incredible work Equality Florida is doing to always include the “T,” in all of the work we do. In hearing the stories and advice being passed among members, the two hours passed quickly; and, like most learning experiences, I left with new answers, outlooks, and questions. Afterwards, a few of us joined for dinner and shared our stories with each other. It became clear that my few days in Pensacola were going to be an incredible time of education, inclusion, and growth.
Day two started with a personal tour by Ceejay Mock and Katharine Jones. They serve as the cofounders for S-Tr-Ive, which raises money to support and further the interests of Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, and gender and sexual minorities throughout Pensacola. During our tour I saw beaches, historic downtown, and beautiful bridges while I met with A Safe Port, ACLU, and UWF’s Gay Straight Alliance. I began to map out what events, spots, and experiences support and provide resources to the LGBT community; but, more importantly, through each of my meetings, I saw the love and humanity that each member of the LGBT community in Pensacola had for each other.
On Tuesday, Equality Florida had its 1st Marriage Equality Town Hall in the panhandle! The event was organized by Equality Florida's Tim Landrum, Marriage Equality Coordinator and Hannah Willard, Statewide Marriage Coordinator. The beautiful event took place at Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church and was hosted by Reverend Jim Merritt, who did the opening prayers and also gave his story about the first gay marriage (which he officiated) on the Panhandle on January 6, 2015. Other panel members included Butch McKay of HIVevolution and OASIS, Inc, and his partner Darryl. Keyontay Humphries Regional Organizer of the ACLU was also present to answer any questions and give an update on the progress of the Supreme Court hearings.
35 attendees, who ranged from straight allies to members of the entire LGBT community, listened intently as we heard remarks on marriage, love, and our most recent victories. It was a perfect end to an incredible few days in Pensacola. I was excited to celebrate our marriage victories and look forward to a nationwide ruling on the Freedom to Marry. Pensacola, like much of the state, is not only ready for full marriage equality for ALL Americans, but also full protections for ALL LGBT Floridians. Let’s celebrate our victories by continuing the momentum! Onward!