There was a method to the madness of Crowlatay while attending the Third Annual Flagler Pride Festival on Saturday at Central Park in Palm Coast.
“I’m not out to my parents, and this is my first pride event out of the house away from them,” said the 20-year-old Crowlatay, who recently moved from Washington state to Palm Coast to live with a relative. “So I’m able to celebrate pride more this year, and I wanted to go all out for it.”
That meant Crowlatay, sporting an ornate crown, elf ears, and hair and face cast in stark, yin-yang black and white, was one of the more flamboyantly attired attendees at Flagler Pride. That also meant, as the soft-spoken Crowlatay confessed, anonymity could be maintained beneath a guise that looked like a cross between a goth, a kabuki performer and an anime character.
Flagler Pride, like dozens of other such events around the country typically held in June, found the local LGBTQ+ community – with the support of family, friends and allies — celebrating itself. The festival featured a carnival-like atmosphere with musicians, comedians and a belly dancer performing before the 500-plus attendees (who were counted by festival staff). Many attendees sported T-shirts or paraphernalia in gay-pride rainbow colors. Between its Saturday and Sunday events, it also featured the participation of two mayors–Palm Coast’s David Alfin and Flagler Beach’s Suzie Johnston–reflecting Flagler Pride’s growing imprint and embrace.
However, rain forced Saturday’s events to end at 7 p.m. instead of their scheduled 10 p.m. close, thus preventing drag performers Emyleigh Cummalotte, Starr Shine and Azaria Kimberly Vallium from strutting their stuff. The trio have been rescheduled to perform July 8 during the monthly LGBTQ+ Night at Moonrise Brewing Company in Palm Coast, said Flagler Pride founder and organizer Eryn Harris.
Speaking of those rainbow colors, someone pushed a baby carriage around the park grounds with two neon-bright, multi-hued live chickens inside. “Those are trans chickens,” said a smiling teen who passed by the entourage.
Flagler Pride had its more serious side, too. Speakers included local businessman Armando Gomez, who talked about his experiences as the father of a transgender daughter, and Jack Petocz, the Flagler Palm Coast High School student who led a student walk-out in March to protest Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law and has been gaining national attention since.
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin attended the festival but did not address the crowd, Harris said. However, Alfin did release a statement to FlagerLive prior to the event: “The City of Palm Coast is growing and needs the support of more and more diversity in order to enjoy the success of our vision for the future, so we welcome all groups, with proper decorum always of course, to celebrate with us here in the city of Palm Coast. The city over time will double its geographical footprint, and also the population will grow as well, and it’s my hope that the population grows as the population of the country grows, representing all interests from all groups.”
Contrary to what Alfin termed certain “extremist” views, he said “diversity offers a stronger foundation for all of us to march forward.”
Among the 20-plus food vendors, businesses and organizations housed in portable cabanas on the festival grounds were Camp Out, an LGBTQ+ youth summer camp held near Ocala; The Cosmic Hippie, a vendor of federally legal edibles made with hemp-derived THC and CBD (available only to ages 21 and older); the Flagler Humane Society; and two candidates for Flagler County School Board – Sally Hunt for District 1 and Courtney VandeBunte for District 2.
“The festival has been great so far,” said Crowlatay before the early evening rain came. “As soon as I arrived, a group of people said, ‘Hey, come with us.’ ”
That included new friend Casper, a 14-year-old Buddy Taylor Middle School student heading into the ninth grade and who “recently came out” to her parents, she said.
“They’re still kind of considering it,” Casper said. “They’re not super supportive but they haven’t been completely unsupportive. So it’s nice to have adults here (at the festival) who are accepting and kids who are accepting. I find it really comforting and supportive.”
She also is aware that LGBTQ+ rights, especially those of young people, are under attack nationwide.
“Especially in Florida recently,” Casper said. “I think this event is just as much an activism thing as it is a celebration. Obviously there are people who don’t want us to be out here and be who we are. But we’re here anyway. So I think that’s pretty activist – it’s almost a protest basically.”
Harris, a 19-year-old Palm Coast resident who studies filmmaking at Flagler College and identifies as bisexual, founded Flagler Pride when she was 17 because “I noticed there was nothing in Flagler County for LGBTQ+ people at all, so I thought I would create my own thing. Anyone can look at what’s going on in our county and realize there is very limited safe space for us.”
Erica Rivera, a Flagler Beach resident, sexual health educator and host of the monthly LGBTQ+ night at Moonrise Brewing Company, serves as Flagler Pride coordinator. Shortly after a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, on June 12, 2016, Rivera organized a vigil for the victims at Flagler Beach.
Last year Harris and Rivera decided to coordinate their efforts, and now Flagler Pride and the Flagler Beach Pulse Vigil are held on successive days. This year’s candlelight vigil was held Sunday at Veterans Park and featured an address by Mayor Johnston.
“I want to say welcome and by welcome, I say you are welcome and I welcome you here. I want you to feel welcome and included, we are all one. You will not be judged in this city, you will not be treated treated differently in this city, you are desired to be here,” Johnston told the assembled. “We as a blended community need to focus on what brings us together not was divides us. When people talk about division, challenge them. I bet we have more in common than we don’t.”
At Saturday’s Flagler Pride event, Rivera – who presented a belly dance routine under her performing name, Sadira – said, “There’s a lot of celebration but, at least for me, I want to see more activism. That’s why I’m so consistent, because if I continue to be active maybe other people will say ‘If you can do that, so can I.’ I think that’s what it takes. If it’s at least one person being consistent and giving that voice and visibility, it gives the courage for other people to jump in.”
Meagan Ennis and Katie Grim, who moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Orlando and then Palm Coast, recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary and were attending their first Flagler Pride event.
Ennis works in HR for Designs for Health, a nutritional supplement and vitamins company in Palm Coast, while Grim left her job in management “to bathe dogs for a living and do something that actually makes me happy,” she said, noting that she works at PetSmart.
“She loves animals,” Ennis said. “They actually call her the animal whisperer.”
At events such as Flagler Pride, Ennis said, “I think it’s important to celebrate and be an activist for the cause. The whole cause is about celebrating, just loving who you love. The celebration is the activism. I think they go hand-in-hand. I don’t think you can have one without the other.”
Armando Gomez, a Flagler County businessman who launched his consulting firm New Wave Business Solutions just five days ago, addressed the crowd about his experiences as the father of a 22-year-old transgender daughter and a 17-year-old daughter who, on the very day of Flagler Pride, “came to me and told me she is pangender,” he said.
When Gomez began sharing with family and friends that his son was transitioning from male to female, “I never saw what hate was until that moment,” he said. “I had about 250 friends on Facebook and about one-third deleted me. And I’m like ‘What the hell is going on with this world?’ So then my daughter told me ‘This is why I’m afraid to tell you this, because you own a business and people are going to judge you because you’re my dad.’ ”
Gomez said a month ago he “made a very strong stance that I, as a part-owner of a business, am going to support the LGBTQ+ community and I was going to help Eryn and Erica run this event. My partner at that time said, ‘No, you’re not going to do it.’ Rest assured I’m no longer part of that company. I choose my family, I choose my friends and I choose common sense over business. It is time that business owners like myself show support for all residents of Flagler County.”
The revelation of his transgender daughter rankled some of his family, Gomez said: “They said, ‘You’re Roman Catholic, you can’t support something like this.’ I said, ‘Listen, I might be Roman Catholic, I might be a Republican, but first I’m a dad. My responsibility as a dad is to love my child no matter what decisions they make.’ ”
Gomez said he had left the Roman Catholic Church for the Orthodox Church in America, “which embraces all humans better.” But he remains a Republican, despite his party often leading the charge nationwide, not to mention in Florida, to limit LGBTQ+ rights.
“I think the minority will overtake the majority,” he said of the Republican Party. “With true education, anything can be overcome.”
Both Sally Hunt and Courtney VandeBunte, the school board candidates, are running for public office for the first time.
Hunt is a former teacher (but not in Flagler County schools) and her 10-year-old daughter attends a Flagler County school.
“I want to bring the focus back on teacher support and student success,” Hunt said. “I think there is a need to get politics out of schools and make it about learning and student success again. I support all students. Students already struggle with mental health just by virtue of the fact that they are young people. I think anybody can relate with that. They don’t need to be made to feel worse about themselves. If elected I would support whatever your family’s party affiliation, wherever you go to church or don’t go to church, whoever you love, whoever your parents love. I want all students to be successful.”
VandeBunte taught for nine years in Flagler County schools, then took time off to be with her three children, including her youngest who is now going into kindergarten.
“Instead of going back into the classroom, which I had originally planned, I thought I could make more of a positive impact running for school board,” she said. “So many students don’t feel accepted or safe because of various identities. You can’t learn unless you feel safe and accepted. I will be an advocate for all students, and for increased mental health resources and accessibility to those mental health resources so that students can start feeling safe and accepted, and then we can have meaningful learning happening in our classrooms.”
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive