Memorial Day Pensacola Beach Pride
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The summer event has roots back to the 1960's.
Emma Jones Society on Independence Day
A local gay couple invited a group of gay friends to the beach for Independence Day. Until the mid-70's the gathering was held during Fourth of July weekend. This group, also known as the Emma Jones Society, hosted this gather during the inaugural years, which during the late 60's and early 70's was held at the San Carlos Hotel (since demolished) in downtown Pensacola. Events there included impersonations, skits, drag queen performances, and a male beauty pageant, Mr. U.S. Gay. These parties ended in 1975.
Rebirth on Memorial Day
The idea of a summer gather rejuvenated in the early 80s, yet, being focused at the beginning of the summer during Memorial Day weekend. In the mid-90's, New Orleans bar-owner Johnny Chisholm began to host circuit parties and the event continued to grow.
Disasters of the 2000s
The weekend celebration was at a peak until Hurricane Ivan hit during 2004, followed just months later by Hurricane Dennis. Area recovery from these severe weather disasters dampened the event for a few years. The BP oil spill also affected the event's growth and offerings following that 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Memorial Day Weekend in Pensacola consists, generally, of two types of events.
The most promoted, for obvious commercial reasons, are the circuit parties. They are hosted and run by traveling companies who will set up large, elaborate sound systems, light shows, and hire well-known professional DJ's. Tickets to the alcohol-free events can be over $75 with discounts available for multiple party tickets. The parties often start late, some at 11:00pm and do not end until shortly before sunrise.
The second type of activity, though probably more heavily attended than the circuit parties, is simply sitting on the beach. There are literally thousands of large shade tents and dozens that are elaborately outfitted with themed decors, full wet bars, and hand-dug jacuzzis. Most of this crowd begins to arrive around 6:45am in time to see the last circuit party-goer leaving.
Pensacola Women's Week
For the women, there's Pensacola Women's Week. The women's events include beach dodgeball, a comedy show, a highly coveted drag king competition, international superstar performances and a seductive pool party at the Holiday Inn Resort. These events take place on the beach, as well, at the Captain Fun's bar.
Criticism and response
The event, especially since its popularity grew, has been denounced by local religious leaders and groups for decades including on-site protesters at several of the event venues around the area.
In 1993, City of Pensacola officials spoke out about not wanting to be associated with or known as being a "gay-friendly" destination. Yet, the positive economic impact on the area has hushed most of the disdain of local conservatives.
- "Gay couples travel from neighboring counties, states to wed in Pensacola" Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2015-4-16.
- "Queer and Here: The Long History of Gay Tourists on Pensacola Beach" IN Weekly. Retrieved 2015-4-16.
- "Gay Money: The Uncertain Economics of Memorial Day Weekend on the Beach" IN Weekly. Retrieved 2015-4-16.