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Big Bend residents come 'out' for PRIDEFEST 2011

By Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez
On April 17, 2011

Tallahassee PRIDEFEST 2011 ended Saturday with a daylong celebration of the LGBT community in Kleman Plaza.

"PRIDEFEST offers good exposure, both for The Family Tree and the groups available in town," said Joseph Ballard, member-at-large for The Family Tree Board of Directors, and Big Bend Cares which offers free HIV testing and educates the community on how to prevent the spread of HIV while also helping those with the virus.

Guests packed Kleman Plaza to see the live shows and patronize business booths that lined the sidewalks. Florida A&M's Pride Student Union (PSU) was in attendance with a table of brochures for visitors to take with them educating them on HIV.

"We hope to get some more visibility," said Tia Gilmore, vice-president of FAMU Pride Student Union, about attending PRIDEFEST. "It is [FAMU Pride Student Union], a safe place like a family environment. If you need someone to relate to, someone to talk to just like you."

Among the different booths was an exhibit by Sean's Last Wish, Inc. A non-profit organization, SLW aims to educate people on how prejudice, bullying, hate, violence and religious beliefs lead to violent crimes.

"We also talk about the gaps in the law because my son's murderer only served 359 days. That's all he received, as a penalty for murder," said Elke Kennedy, founder and chair of Sean's Last Wish, Inc. "I believe that it is education that's very important and through education we're going to change hearts and minds."

"I've been coming for about four years," said Mark Wool, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "It's bigger than I expected. We didn't make it last year, the first year it was down here. Kind of overwhelmed with how big the community is."

A mix of sounds, including a DJ and live music entertainment filled Kleman Plaza throughout the day. Children played in a space-walk and slide on the plaza's lawn. Local artist 8 fifty Redeyez performed her new song "A Song For Her" featuring Ice. When she was first coming out, 8 fifty Redeyez found help in The Family Tree, hosts of PRIDEFEST.

"I'm here at PRIDEFEST to support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning community, show support," said 8 fifty Redeyez. "Florida A&M's PSU came to my attention, and when they came at the offer I jumped on it. I don't turn down any opportunity for people to hear my music and spread the word."

As the day came to an end, "PRIDE in the Plaza" became PRIDE After Dark." For the first time since PRIDEFEST became a weeklong celebration, PRIDE After Dark was held in the Plaza. The plaza lawn filled with people sitting on blankets waiting for a drag competition.

Six contestants competed for the title of Mrs./Mr. PRIDEFEST 2011. The top three finalists then went to Paradigm for the final showdown before the crowning.

"Today was awesome," said B.J. Nelson, who was at PRIDE After Dark with her partner and young son. "They did a good job, a lot of kids. That was really cool, it was very inclusive. A lot of mixed couples, straight and gay, it was great."

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