Bradenton – This month marks a historic first for Manatee County. The first-ever LGBT Pride Festival will be held at the Bradenton Riverwalk on Saturday, March 22. The effort, which runs from noon to 4 p.m., is organized by the Prism Youth Initiative and its executive director, Shannon Summers.

Manatee Pride hopes to accomplish two things in its inaugural year. It aims to bring the pro-LGBT community together to promote awareness and tolerance regarding LGBT issues, and identify possible board members and mentors for Prism members for the Manatee County Human Rights Ordinance Committee.

“Manatee County needs Pride to show our youth that they are not alone and there is a community for them to be a part of,” Summers said, who added that she expects approximately 1,000 people on March 22.

Manatee County has come a long way with regards to diversity, but it still has a long way to go. The Manatee County Commission approved the festival last October with very little controversy.

“I did not think it was going to be this easy,” Summers said right after the vote. “I was scared half to death.”
Summers worked with Laura McKeithen, of Realize Bradenton, and the city’s Downtown Development Authority for four months to pick a date and get the item placed on the agenda.

Summers hopes to make Manatee Pride an annual event and believes it will put Prism on the map and hopefully open the minds of the county’s population.

Proceeds from Manatee Pride will help expand the services currently offered by Prism since it was founded in 2010. Those services include free HIV testing and STD education, peer counseling and mentorship, a computer lab for students, tutoring, and bullying and suicide prevention education. It also provides a safe haven for youth to empower one another without ridicule.

Prism aims to help those between the ages of 13-23. Members of that age group, especially, are often victims of bullying rejection from family. For this reason, Prism also collaborates with Manatee Children’s Services to provide services for homeless young people between the ages of 18-23. Prism’s website includes a video of testimonials from young people expressing how the organization has helped them, keeping some from suicide, and others able to cope with difficult family situations and gain self confidence.

“There aren’t many who had an outlet at a younger age, but there is a noticeable difference in those who did,” said Prin, the president of the University of South Florida’s Trans+ Student Union. “People who had an outlet such as Prism are more outspoken and proud of themselves and motivated to help others who are not at that level yet, me being one of them. Those who had no outlet growing up and have been closeted most of their lives seem to have more trouble coming to terms with who they truly are, and typically tend to be more soft spoken than the others.”

Several vendors are already in place for the inaugural Manatee Pride and entertainment includes Diversity: Voices of Sarasota and the rock band Walking Giants. Attendance is free.

From our media partner Watermark