Natalie Castillo is a petite 13-year-old — but she wasn’t hard to spot at this year’s Palm Beach Pride. This was her first pride festival ever, after coming out of the closet just eight months ago.
Castillo ran from store to store assembling her first pride outfit — a glittery rainbow dress, with knee-high rainbow socks and rainbow boots to match, topped off with a lush rainbow wig.
The highlight of the two-day event for Castillo was being ushered onto the stage by emcees Melissa St. John and RaeJean Cox and being recognized as one of the many beaming young faces of this year’s pride.
“My phone was ringing on stage, and I just wanted to throw it off,” Castillo said.
But the other major highlight for her was having her supportive mom, Audrey Castillo, beaming alongside her the whole weekend.
“She was courageous enough to come out at such a young age,” Audrey said. “I am the proudest mom here right now.”
And that’s what this year’s Palm Beach Pride was all about.
Last weekend, thousands of people gathered at Bryant Park in Lake Worth Beach to celebrate Compass’ 28th annual Pride parade and festival. It was the largest turnout in the event’s history for both days, according to Compass Executive Director Julie Seaver.
“Each Pride is unique — just like the people that come to it,” Seaver said.
This year’s event theme was “50 Years of Pride,” as 2019 marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots. Compass volunteers honored the theme with shirts that read, “The first Pride was a riot.”
The theme was prevalent throughout Sunday’s parade in downtown Lake Worth (newly renamed Lake Worth Beach). Some marchers pushed wheelbarrows filled with bricks down the street with signs that said, “Trans W.O.C. threw the first brick,” and another said, “A queer rebellion against police oppression.”
Several Lake Worth city officials made an appearance in the parade, including Mayor Pam Triolo, City Commissioner Andy Amoroso, and more.
“I remember when Pride just took up J Street — now, it takes up the entire city of Lake Worth Beach… ,” Triolo said after the parade. “I am so proud to be your friend.”
The parade began at 11 a.m. Sunday, a half hour earlier than previous years due to the influx of participants. It was sponsored by Wells Fargo and the SMART Ride, among other companies.
Though the parade was only Sunday, there was entertainment at the park all through the weekend. The two headliners — openly gay hip-hop artist Cazwell and Robin S. — both debuted on Sunday. But there were dozens of other performers, who said that Pride this year was one of the most inclusive.
Daviana, a drag queen who performed, said Palm Beach Pride was “more welcoming” to gender-fluid performers, bearded queens (like her), and drag kings than Prides elsewhere.
Members of the Elite Drag Kings, a South Florida-based drag trio that also performed, agreed that an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere makes for better drag and a better time.
“Compass tries so hard in doing Pride every year,” said L.A., an Elite Drag King member. “There were so many newer performers that brought a different flare and a different experience.”
Along with diversifying the performers on stage, Compass also wanted to make sure the audience could fully enjoy the entertainment — which is why American Sign Language interpreters were present through each performance.
On that stage was a mural from Rolando Chang Barrero, owner of The Box Gallery in West Palm Beach — which displayed local icons in the LGBT community against a rainbow backdrop. Some of the selected faces were PFLAG President Carole Benowitz, Amoroso, former H.G. Roosters Manager Michael Brown, and more.
One of Compass’ efforts this year to develop an even more family-friendly and inclusive setting was having South Florida Family Pride, an LGBT family advocacy group, oversee the family “fun zone” at Bryant Park for the first time.
Palm Beach Pride has become a staple for many South Florida families and people like 56-year-old Riviera Beach resident Sheila McDuffie Smith. Her family started going to Palm Beach Pride five years ago to support her daughter’s same-sex marriage.
“You’re able to look around here and see the community ….” Smith said. “This is wonderful … to see all of these people be who they are.”
Sunday also marked International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), an annual campaign launched by head of Transgender Michiganl, a reason for hundreds of people to celebrate last weekend.
Adelaide, a 22-year-old West Palm Beach drag queen who performed during Pride, said that TDOV is a key component in raising LGBT awareness.
“We can still get fired for being trans,” she said. “We need people to accept trans people and [TDOV] helps people become aware of our existence.”
Adelaide accompanied fellow drag queen Velvet Lenore for Lenore’s hour-long 20th Pride performance on Sunday, which featured dozens of her drag kids.
Entertainment wasn’t the only thing that the weekend had in store — there was also free HIV testing throughout both days and ongoing dog adoptions at the park.
Compass, the LGBT community center of the Palm Beaches, is one of only a few centers to actually host their own Pride parades, according to Seaver.
Despite the record turnout and sold-out vendor space, Seaver knows there’s more awareness and education that the community needs.
“We’ve come a long way as far as rights are concerned,” Seaver said. “But we’re just not done yet.”