“As far as I’m concerned, it was a 100% success.” That is the view of Jamie Forsythe, one of the main organizers of this year’s Stonewall Pride Parade & Street Festival. He’s not alone.
The reviews of the event have been outstanding.
Early estimates say 50,000 people came out for the event, and many expect the final total will be much higher. Usually 35,000-40,000 attend, and this year may be the biggest so far. The gates opened around mid-afternoon and the street was filled long after the sun went down.
Seven stages, including the first Girls, Latino, and Black Excellence stages, kept the music going and energy up. They stretched from in front of Bubbles & Pearls at the south end of Wilton Drive down to The Manor at the north end.
The parade started around 7 p.m., and people were ready. More than 100 groups marched and it lasted more than two hours. At points, the crowd was at least 15 people deep, and The Drive was so packed that you couldn’t distinguish the parade from the crowd. Happening Out Television Network broadcast the parade live for the first time. Co-host FayWhat?! said the view from the stage was a sight to behold.
“It was incredible up there. To see the sea of people was just amazing. All the organizations that fight for us on a daily basis were the one in the parade suiting up and showing up. That was just so heartwarming.”
In addition to being the parade reviewing stand, Center Stage also served as the Black Excellence Stage, in recognition of Juneteenth, which was on Sunday and observed on Monday. There was also a Juneteenth flash mob that quickly won over the crowd.
This is the first time in three years that the event has been at “full strength.” It was canceled in 2020 due to COVID. Last year the street festival happened but the parade was canceled at the last minute after a fatal accident in the staging area.
Protected and Served
Maybe the biggest news is that, from a safety and security perspective, there’s no news. Security costs and concerns dominated discussions in the weeks leading up to the event. Planners were hit with larger than expected increases for security only days before the festival.
Those costs were coupled with threats to Pride events across the country. West Palm Beach’s Pride On the Block dealt with a credible, last-minute threat. In Idaho, a group of right-wing men was stopped on their way to disrupt an event.
Wilton Manors police worked with multiple agencies to staff the event but also monitor ceaseless web traffic and try to pick out credible threats. Wilton Manors Police Chief Gary Blocker told SFGN the efforts paid off.
“Our crime analysts worked diligently before and during the event in search of anything of concern, and we are glad to report no threats to our event surfaced.”
He also said no arrests were made in or around the festival, saying it’s a testament to the community to have fun and stay safe.
Wilton Manors City Commissioner Chris Caputo, who has called for a better budgeting process so major increases in costs can be absorbed, was happy as well, posting on social media, “A big heartfelt thanks to the police officers, volunteers and WMEG staff who came together to remind the nation that the City of Wilton Manors doesn’t say — but, instead, screams — gay!”
While budgeting for big events like Stonewall Pride isn’t going to get any easier, people close to the event are optimistic that they will continue. Forsythe said it’s onward to next year.