PrideFest in Sebring, Florida in 2022. (Screenshot from YouTube channel “Whoa, Davie!”)
The Sebring City Council opened its meeting on May 16 with a prayer, transitioned to residents and council members passionately addressing their fellow townspeople, and closed with the city council voting to allow a road to be closed for a Pride event.
At the city council meeting, Christopher Davies, founder and president of the Highlands County LGBT+ Caucus, requested permission from the city for the organization to close a portion of North Commerce Avenue on June 11 for a Pride event.
The day’s events will begin with a Pride Service at the Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Sebring at 10 a.m. followed by a Pride Brunch hosted by Faded Bistro and Beer Garden. Both of those events will be open to all ages.
The group will then move to North Commerce Avenue, which will be closed for the event and open only to those 21 years old or older. This is in compliance with Senate Bill 1438, which prohibits establishments from admitting a child to an adult live performance.
Jeff Schoop, executive consultant to the Highlands County LGBT+ Caucus, also spoke at the meeting and in support of this event, citing the economic opportunities that come with hosting an event such as Pride.
Schoop referenced other cities in Florida that have held Pride events and brought significant funds into the county, including St Pete Pride, which drew in approximately 300,000 attendees and $67 million in economic impact.
“I grew up in Sebring, and it was this restrictive, conservative community for me,” Schoop says in an interview with Watermark. “I definitely didn’t have great experiences in high school, I was targeted quite a bit for being gay even though I wasn’t out, so for me, I know there are other kids who, like me, are trying to thrive and live here and they need representation. They need to be able to look around and see adults who can be an example to them.
“I always felt alienated when I was growing up here,” he continued. “Then after high school I took off, first to Orlando and then New York, then I came back here full-time three years ago. I want to let the young people know that they are not alone and they don’t need to feel alienated like I did.”
Davies agrees, adding that if he had a Pride celebration in his town growing up, he may have been able to accept himself sooner.
“I was a conservative Republican for a while because I had that internal hatred of myself,” he says. “If I had been able to experience Pride myself sooner, I think I would have opened up before I did.”
After hearing public comment from community members both for and against the move, the Sebring City Council agreed to allow North Commerce Avenue to be closed for the Pride event with a vote of 5-1. Sebring Councilwoman Terry Mendel was the lone detractor.
“There are certain things that are good for a community and certain things that are not good for a community,” she said during the meeting.
Even with Mendel’s displeasure with the Pride celebration, many within Sebring are excited to see the event return for its fourth year.
This year’s PrideFest Celebration will once again take place at Mon Cirque Wine Bar.
“When I opened the bar, it’s a circus-themed bar so everything is lighthearted and whimsical, it just became a place where everyone felt they could be safe and be themselves,” says Mon Cirque owner Tiffany Cadzow. “This will be the fourth PrideFest that we are having and involved in, and it is amazing that we can be. There’s a part of our community that hasn’t had a voice and hasn’t been able to be out, and now they can be and that’s wonderful.”
The celebration will go from 4-10 p.m. This 21 and up event will feature cabaret performances, music courtesy of DJ Benjamin Rose, free HIV/STD testing, a Bearded Lady contest and more.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., Sebring Pride attendees will start to line up in front of Mon Cirque for the Pride Walk around Circle Park. The march will make four rotations are the Circle on the sidewalk in celebration of the city’s fourth Pride event. Following the walk, participants are asked to join everyone in front of the Circle Park flagpole for a group photo.
For those who would like to start their Pride festivities early, you can start on June 10 with the kick-off party at Morty and Edna’s in Lake Placid, Florida from 7-9:30 p.m. The event, which is 21 and up only, requires a reservation and a $10 deposit. Space is limited so be sure to call 863-699-0600 to make your reservation.
“We are really proud of this event that we have been able to grow year after year,” Schoop says. “We are just hoping for a successful and safe event, in which everyone is welcome.”
Check out the video below from the YouTube channel “Whoa, Davie!” to see some of the festivities from last year.