When Amy Oatley and Lynn DiVenuti bought ProSuzy, a website and radio station connecting lesbians and the greater LGBT community, in 2015, they were already well versed in organizing community events.
For years, the couple ran an industrial art center, hosting everything from art workshops and demos to chili cookoffs. Then, when they took over the women’s media site, changing the name to ProSisters, they began putting together larger music festivals at the Gulfport Casino.
But they were always surprised that Gulfport didn’t have its own Pride event.
“Something like a third of Gulfport is LGBT,” said DiVenuti. “We thought, how come Gulfport doesn’t have a Pride? So, we made the change from a women’s festival to a Pride festival.”
How Gulfport Peace, Love & Pride Got Started
The couple hosted their first Gulfport Peace, Love & Pride Festival in 2018, turning it into so much more than an LGBTQ+ event.
“With the festival here, we’re just trying to do some bragging about Gulfport,” she said. “It’s about LGBT pride, but we’re celebrating Gulfport and the people that live here.”
Oatley added, “We’re celebrating the community of Gulfport and the diversity here, the way everyone is welcome here.”
The Festival’s Return
Now, after taking a break in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the beloved event makes its return to the Gulfport Casino on Sunday, March 13 starting at noon.
The festival features eight hours of music from noon to sunset with a killer line-up including Rum Syndicate, Elysian Sex Drive, Hot Tonic, Urban Gypsies of Florida, Doug Thomas, Peter Suarez, Kimi Tortuga, Colleen Clark and DiVenuti, also known as Bluesmama.
“Music has always been so important to everything we’ve done that as this event evolved, we didn’t just want it to be a Pride festival, we also wanted it to be a music festival,” Oatley said. “Lynn’s a musician, so it’s also important to make music for the events we do.”
The artists perform at the free Pride event on an outdoor stage between the Gulfport Casino and the volleyball courts.
“Bring a lawn chair; bring a cooler and hang out on the beach, whatever you feel like doing. It’s all free so it doesn’t matter,” DiVenuti said. “It’s whatever you want.”
And as always, the festival will feature a wide range of vendors, though this year is the first time they’ll set up both inside and outside the building.
It’s a COVID-19 adaption, Oatley said. “It’s the newest thing. We worked it out with the Casino staff so we can have some of the vendors going around the outside (of the building.) Some people might want an outdoor booth, or they might feel safer outside or want a view of the beach. If they do, they have that option. And some people want to be inside the air conditioning.”
The additional space outside the Casino also means room for more vendors.
‘A From the Heart Kind of Event’
DiVenuti describes Gulfport Peace, Love & Pride as “a from the heart kind of event,” one that’s needed more now than ever as the city recovers from the pandemic and people want to come together in person.
“We care about each other here; we really do,” she said.
Whether it’s creating “mini free libraries,” stocking food pantries or “giving people rides that we don’t even know,” Gulfport residents “help each other out,” she added. “I think this event is an acknowledgement of the good people that live here. We’re a little, teeny city, only about 12,000 people. But we have our own police department, our own fire department, our own mayor. But we’re so small that we know everybody just about or know of them, at least, the good and bad, but most of it’s good here.”
For more information on the festival, click here.
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