It was a big night for a big event: the “Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade & Festival” June 16 held up and down the Wilton Drive corridor.
This was the 19th annual event – one in which The Drive is transformed into a gigantic Pride celebration – stretching from end to end with exhibitors, entertainment, food, drink and Pride-goers of every stripe from across the U.S. and internationally.
Jeff Sterling, the CEO of Wilton Manors Entertainment Group, said the crowd estimate was 40,000, a little higher than last year. He said that overall, from the perspective of attendees, the event went smoothly.
“Change is tough,” Sterling said. “And we started charging $5 at the entrances this year. But if anyone complained, we let them in for free,” he said.
The admission fee was put in place to defer the increasing costs of security and logistics for an event of its type and size, Sterling said, especially following the tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016.
Sterling said he was unaware of any major security-related incidents that took place at the event. “The medical lines were a little more active than last year from heat-related incidents,” he said.
Indeed the afternoon was a hot one at times, and some marching in the parade tossed bottles of water to those in the crowd, some were shielding their faces from the sun with paper fans of the rainbow flag.
Sterling’s group, which is a nonprofit partnership with the city of Wilton Manors and the Wilton Manors Development Alliance, prepared extensively with volunteers to secure the streets, set up tents for exhibitors and make sure everyone had a great time.
Businesses were hopping along the corridor, serving food and drink specials. And there was entertainment up and down “The Drive,” with DJs, performers and crowds of dancers.
The centerpiece and unofficial kick-off was the parade – a colorful spectacle featuring what seemed like every political candidate up for election (or not) this year in Florida, including Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the newly elected and openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale Dean Trantalis. Gubernatorial hopeful Phil Levine was glad-handing the crowd and many businesses were represented – from the local, like Ramrod, Out-of-the-Closet Thrift Stores and Crunch Fitness, to the national, like Target and Wells Fargo.
Several local nonprofits were marching and on floats as well, like The Pride Center at Equality Park, the Bears of South Florida, Latinos Salud, the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale and the Ramat Shalom Synagogue, among many others.
And like at Stonewall, there were plenty of drag queens to be seen. Queens were roaming the crowds and riding the floats in the parade, and of course, performing.
The partying went on into the evening and the consensus among most festival goers was that it went off without a hitch – a big accomplishment for a city of 13,000 hosting upwards of 40,000 guests.