Local leaders at odds over Gulfport Pride 2024

LGBTQ+ Resource Center President Susan Gore speaks at the Gulfport City Council meeting Aug. 15. Screenshot via City of Gulfport.

GULFPORT, Fla. | While the fourth annual Gulfport Pride is nearly a year away, there’s controversy surrounding the popular event. 

Since the inception of the Gulfport Pride Festival and Parade three years ago, it has been backed by one nonprofit, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, also its sole beneficiary. Next year, the celebration will be held under the Gulfport Pride Florida, Inc. 501(c)(3), as voted on by Gulfport City Council Aug. 15.

The new nonprofit is overseen by Gulfport Councilmember Paul Ray, its president, along with Ray’s husband Wesley Ray, vice president. Ester Venouziou is its secretary and Suzy King serves as treasurer.

LGBTQ+ Resource Center President Susan Gore believes the creation of Gulfport Pride Florida, Inc. was a retaliation to a previous dispute between herself, Ray and King, the event’s traditional organizer as owner of SIK Promotions.

Gore says King confronted her at Gulfport Pride 2023 after she questioned Ray’s stance to not hold a peaceful, pro-LGBTQ+ protest at the parade. Ray, who helped launch the first festival, denies this. According to the Gulfport councilmember, forming a nonprofit for Pride was always the plan. 

“This [nonprofit status] was always, always, a long-time in the works,” Ray says. “It’s just not easy to do it on your own, and not cheap.” 

It Started With a Letter 

Before Ray and the Gulfport Pride board brought the nonprofit for approval to the city council, he invited Gore to lunch on July 13 to share the news. He did so in a letter.

“I would like to extend the LGBTQ Resource Center the courtesy of advising you that we have incorporated and established the Gulfport Pride Florida, Inc. 501(c)(3) with the assistance of our attorney and accountant,” it reads. “Such incorporation will allow the organization to act independently.” 

Both parties note there was a verbal disagreement that ended in Gore leaving the restaurant. 

The organization subsequently shared the news July 15 on social media:

Countering at Council 

On Aug. 15, the city council discussed the next Gulfport Pride and other events during a meeting, with Gore among those who opposed the new direction during public comment.

Ray then opposed her commentary, advising that “Nobody is stealing anything, it was ours from the beginning.”

City officials claim that while applications were submitted by the new nonprofit and LGBTQ+ Resource Center for Gulfport Pride 2024, the center’s application was not chosen as it was “incomplete.” They had not attached an event organizer, as it was King in previous years; Gore was not aware that she would be involved with Gulfport Pride Inc. at the time she submitted.

However, Gore said she did have a new organizer on deck. 

Councilmember April Thanos spoke up, countering with the fact that the Resource Center had always put in an application with King as the organizer.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ray said.

“It doesn’t matter — to you,” Thanos responded. 

She then introduced a motion to allow the Gulfport Council to take time to review the matter, but she did not receive a second. Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderon’s spot was filled by Ray, as Henderson could not attend the meeting. 

During the meeting, another Gulfport resident questioned if Ray should recuse himself from the voting process. Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly advised that it is not a conflict of interest, as Ray is not personally financially benefiting from his nonprofit being chosen to lead Gulfport Pride 2024.

View the full council meeting here.

Money Matters

As for next year’s event beneficiary, Ray is confident that Gulfport Pride will donate funds to the LGBTQ+ Resource Center. It’s unclear if the nonprofit will be the sole beneficiary, however, which concerns Gore. She says funds from Pride make up 20% of the their budget. 

“We are an all-volunteer board, so when we lose money, there are no cuts to make, but we get to offer fewer services,” Gore says. “That’s not something we can wait until June 5 to find out.”

Learn more about Gulfport Pride and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at GulfportPrideFlorida.com and MyGulfport.us/LGBTQ-Resources.

More in News

See More