Project Pride plans new and returning events this June

Project Pride formed in 2019 to celebrate, unite and support the LGBTQ+ community in and around Sarasota. The nonprofit has worked to ensure the region remains open and equitable to all ever since.

Their efforts have resulted in unprecedented visibility. In 2021, they oversaw the installation of an LGBTQ+-focused crosswalk and street mural in Downtown Sarasota — a 2,500-square-foot piece covering a five-corner intersection — and in the same year, secured the city’s first proclamation formally recognizing Pride Month.

That support only bolstered their resolve to celebrate LGBTQ+ Sarasota every June. The organization has introduced several high-profile events in recent years — including The Grand Carnival, a signature gala launched last year.

The gathering delivered on its promise to provide an iconic evening of entertainment and spectacle, enlisting “RuPaul’s Drag Race” All Star Trinity the Tuck to host. It welcomed around 250 attendees, paving the way for an expanded return on June 3 as one of Project Pride’s major events this year.

“Going into Pride Month in Sarasota is exciting,” Project Pride President Jason Champion says. “We’re proud to show this year that we’re not going away and that members of the LGBTQ+ community that live here, play here and visit here are safe and are excited about being here.

“Obviously the political climate is putting some fear and doubts in folks’ heads, but we have to stand up, keep going and come out and enjoy the love and support from the community that will be there going through the same things,” he continues. “Right now, standing together with locked arms, showing that we’re not going away is what we need and what we’re excited about doing this year.”

That’s why Project Pride partnered with other organizations and conceptualized new and returning events. Festivities officially begin June 1 at University Town Center, located at 140 University Town Center Dr., with a recurring concert called UTC Live on the Green.

The gathering will feature the NoFilter Band, which “creates a one-of-a-kind, concert-style experience featuring four singer-musicians.”

Attendees are encouraged to wear their most colorful clothing to “get ready to paint the town rainbow with the ultimate high-energy dance band.” The event is free and takes place from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

A Pride edition of UTC’s Night Market will follow that evening. Participants will enjoy local vendors, rainbow-themed sweet treats and live music.

“These are great events,” Champion says. “It’s a time where we can all come together and experience music and more. Music heals. It is a soul shaker and can motivate people in all ways.”

That’s Project Pride’s hope with this year’s Grand Carnival. Its June 3 return will take place in a new venue and welcome vocalist and drag entertainer Ada Vox along with fellow LGBTQ+ artist Zee Machine.

“Welcome to the shiniest ball of them all!” the gala is officially billed. “This unique event will knock you off your feet with exciting visuals by Botanica Design Studio and live performances on the main stage by Ada Vox of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Queen of the Universe,’ and Zee Machine, nominated for Breakout Musical Artist at The Queerties Awards, plus surprises you must see to believe!”

The 21+ event is scheduled from 8-10 p.m. with VIP entrance an hour prior. This year it’s housed at Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory, located at 2075 Bahia Vista St., where organizers expect to welcome up to 500 attendees.

“We wanted to move the Grand Carnival to this larger location to incorporate more people,” Champion explains. “Not only just the LGBTQ+ community, but to really work off of our mission of building inclusive communities that support and unite us all. This is open for everyone to come watch live performances and enjoy the evening. It’s going to be an over-the-top party.”

This year’s theme is “Diamonds are Forever” to that end. It was chosen to give every attendee the chance and a reason to shine.

“More is more. If you don’t have on sparkles, you’ll be turned away,” Champion muses. “We want to see feathers, we want to see glitter, we want to see sparkles. We want to see diamonds. Heels, hair, all of it. Bring it and bring it loud and proud — this is the year to explode with color and represent our community like the beautiful collage of people that we are.”

Tickets begin at $75 and include light bites and an open bar in addition to the evening’s entertainment. Champion says Vox and Zee Machine were the perfect pair to feature this year.

“We wanted to represent drag culture,” he says of the former. “It is an incredible part of the history of the LGBTQ community and we wanted to showcase someone that has been an outstanding model for drag themselves, along with having amazing talent.”

Vox found fame on season 16 of “American Idol,” where she advanced to the singing competition’s Top 10 in 2018. She became the first drag entertainer to do so, sharing at the time “I am here standing for something that is so much bigger than just myself.”

The self-described “voice of drag” also competed on the first season of “Queen of the Universe” last year, World of Wonder’s drag and singing competition airing on Paramount+. Vox finished as runner-up but has since teased her audition on “America’s Got Talent.” The competition’s 18th season premieres May 30 on NBC.

“Ada Vox has put herself on national television, she has continued to build a career and she represents our community with pride and excellence,” Champion notes. “We’re excited to have her as a part of this.”

“I’m so excited and look forward to performing at the Grand Carnival,” Vox adds.

As for Zee Machine, the entertainer bills himself as a “queer pop/rock/electronic/soul singer-songwriter who wants to make you feel fabulous.” Champion’s assessment is that he’s a TikTok sensation and future Grammy winner with an incredible voice, one “that we needed to get quickly.”

“Zee Machine is pretty amazing,” he says. “Think Scissor Sisters, think Jake Shears. This is the new one, right here.”
“Diamonds After Dark,” the gala’s free after party, will then be held atop Art Ovation Hotel beginning at 11 p.m. Located at 1255 N. Palm Ave., the venue “offers panoramic views of a thriving urban landscape that has become synonymous with inspiring creative endeavors and spectacular artistic expressions.”

“We’re super excited to have the after party here,” Champion says. “Not only are they one of the most LGBTQ-friendly hotels in Sarasota, they have an incredible rooftop which will be set in the darkness of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ with sparkles and excitement after the event. We don’t want the party to stop.”

A special Pride edition of UTC Fit at University Town Center will then be held June 7, a Zumba class with a professional instructor. Colorful workout gear is encouraged.

Project Pride will subsequently hold its next signature outing, the inaugural Silver Pride, June 10 from 12-5 p.m. It’s presented in partnership with the Senior Friendship Centers, the nonprofit which has worked to build vibrant communities for seniors throughout the region for five decades.

Silver Pride will celebrate members of the LGBTQ+ community “aged 50 and better” and feature live music, vendors, food trucks and more. It will be held at the Senior Friendship Centers of Sarasota, located at 1888 Brother Geenen Way.

“Being a long-term resident of Sarasota, we know that the demographic is here,” Champion explains. “There’s never been anything like this to celebrate our older generation of people who have fought the fight before what we’re doing now and we needed that representation. We needed a space for everybody to be recognized.”

It’s a key tenet of Project Pride’s overall mission, something they’ll stress well beyond Pride Month. The organization is already teasing the 32nd Sarasota Pride this October, their first in control after merging with Sarasota Pride, Inc. in 2022.

“Project Pride is really stepping out of the box this year,” Champion says. “We’re developing deeper relationships and partnerships to help continue to give our community the exposure in Sarasota County that we need.”

To learn more about celebrating Pride Month in Sarasota with Project Pride and to buy tickets to the organization’s 2023 Grand Carnival, visit

More in Arts & Culture

See More