Gainesville marches in solidarity with national Equality March for Unity and Pride

by Madison Rubert

Hundreds of LGBTQ supporters adorned in rainbow face paint and flags paraded the streets of Downtown Gainesville to march in solidarity with the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington D.C.

At 1:30 p.m. on June 11, local LGBTQ supporters gathered at Depot Park before the Gainesville Area Equality March for Unity and Pride, a 10-minute walk through South Main St. towards Bo Diddley Plaza hosted by the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida.

The PCCNCF’s main objective is to provide resource and organizational and legal connections to members of the LGBTQ community, Shirley Rodriguez, secretary of the PCCNCF said.

It hosts movie nights, fundraisers and other group activities to create a safe space for the most marginalized members of the community, she said.

“We are definitely a really important resource to have,” Rodriguez said. “I think the Pulse massacre last year was a reminder of how necessary it is to have clear spaces specifically for queer people to be with people like them.”

The march was held a day after the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse night club shooting to commemorate the lives of the 49 victims, she said.

“[The Pulse shooting] was really heart wrenching for a lot of us in the community,” Rodriguez, 27, said. “All of their lives were really meaningful. It hurts to see that they were taken away so quickly.”

About 300 marchers slowly filled the Bo Diddley Plaza by 2:20 p.m., where 14 speakers including local social activists such as Faye Williams, Ellie Gaustria and Gainesville City Commissioner Helen Warren spoke to supporters. LGBT advocacy groups such as Trans Affairs, TranQuility and Indivisible Gainesville also attended the event.

“We wanted to make sure that the majority of speakers were centering the voices of the most marginalized groups in our community,” Rodriguez said.

Warren encouraged the audience become politically engaged to protect the rights of LGBTQ and minority groups,

“We have kind of gotten away from the principle of our self-endowed rights to vote by expecting government and leaders to take care of the needs of the community,” Warren said. “The government, really, can only do certain things such as providing the foundation, but the whole rest of the community is dependent on people being engaged in the process to make sure people aren’t being oppressed.”

Several speakers addressed violence against the trans community. Many crimes against the trans-community go unnoticed, Rodriguez said.

“It’s not only the Pulse victims that we lost, we have already lost 12 trans people this year that have been murdered through hate crimes,” Rodriguez said.

The city of Gainesville has historically been leader in advocating for transgender rights, Warren said. “We are at the leading edge of supporting civil rights protections for all regardless of race and sex.”

UF junior Ellie Gaustria identifies as an indigenous trans-woman of color and has been a volunteer for the PCCNCF for three years. She was contacted by Terry Fleming to speak because it was important to him to have a diverse group of speakers.

“Because some of the most marginalized people in our community are trans-women of color, it was important that we had that representation and had that voice,” Gaustria said. “So I immediately said yes.”

The PCCNCF was expecting counter protests from pro-confederacy groups, Rodriguez said. “We were ready for it, but it didn’t happen.”

Rodriguez attributes the large turn-out to a tumultuous national climate. “Right now people realize how easily our lives can be taken away …  a lot of people are willing to step up and help the LGBT community.”

Warren said it is essential to continue the fight towards inclusion of all genders, races and sexualities. “It may not be solved in this generation, but we have to continue the conversation.”

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