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The Rainbows Came Out After the Rain at Annual Pride at the Park

The Rainbows Came Out After the Rain at Annual Pride at the Park

by James Coulter

The morning may have started with dark cloudy skies and heavy rain, but eventually, the sun came out and shone brightly with plenty of rainbows just in time for Lakeland’s annual pride event.

On Saturday, thousands of attendees gathered at Munn Park in Downtown Lakeland to celebrate their pride at the annual Pride in the Park, hosted by Polk Pride FL. Rainbow colors were proudly showcased everywhere from flags and buttons to shirts and face paint.

Several dozen vendors and food trucks congregated in the park to sell rainbow-colored merchandise and food. Meanwhile, the main stage served as a venue for drag performances and other musical numbers that allowed attendees to celebrate their identities proudly.

For nearly a decade, Polk Pride Week has allowed locals within the LGBTQIA community and their allies an opportunity to celebrate diversity and inclusion through a weeklong celebration in Lakeland, ultimately culminating with the main event on Saturday, Pride in the Park.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic postponing events in previous years, the first in-person event was hosted last year. This year’s event experienced a significant turnout that more than exceeded the expectations of event organizers, explained Scott Guira, Polk Pride President.

“We had a great event,” he said. “Even despite the rain, it has been a packed park. I love the unity. It is about bringing the community together to celebrate. We met expectations by the thousands of people out there coming together to celebrate the event.”

Concerns about public safety had been raised about potential threats of hate crimes, especially in light of an increase in anti-trans legislation in Florida and throughout the country. However, with Polk Pride working directly with the Lakeland Police Department and the City of Lakeland, efforts were made to maintain public safety and security during the Pride event.

While many Christians have averred that “pride is a sin”, other more progressive congregations have emphasized Christ’s message to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Such was the case with Pastor Mel Wilkinson, Senior Pastor at Christ’s Promise United Church of Christ in Lakeland.

“We support it [the event] every year,” she said. “It is a very important part of our ministry. It is about making people know that no matter who you are, no matter where you are in your life, you are welcome with us. I love meeting all the people, especially all the children who are gay and believe they cannot be Christian. Those are the people we love to reach the most.”

Stephanie Middleton, co-owner of Cookie Catastrophe with her wife, Crystal Lens, attended with plenty of rainbow-colored cookies. Both she and her wife have been attending the event for the past two years, with its inclusive atmosphere keeping them coming back each time.

“It has been great,” she said. “This is our second year. It is near and dear to our hearts for sure. We love seeing people get together to be themselves in a no-judgment zone.”

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