Portland takes a lot of pride in PRIDE. Openness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community is a big tall cultural feather in Portland’s cap. To say it’s admirable wouldn’t be enough.
One of my coolest days in Portland was the day I attended a “drag brunch”. It happened at the Nite Lite Lounge. I had good food, got a good buzz…had an absolute ball. I even got prodded enough to do a little dancing myself – with a nice purple wig. There was nothing but pure goodness happening. It was really neat to be a part of.
There are no pictures or video, tho. There will be no pictures or video (chuckle).
But you would be surprised at something, I wager.
Some awesome and enlightening LGBTQ culture happens in the Old South.
Yep, as a matter of fact, there are probably a few dozen Portlanders who go to the Deep South for one of the biggest and coolest LGBTQ bashes there is, at least in the U.S.
Each year, somewhere around 50,000 to 80,000 loud and proud lesbian, gay, bi sexual, trans, and queer folks head to the sun soaked coast of the Florida Panhandle for Memorial Day weekend.
These fun and loving folks jam-pack two miles of soft, plush, sugar white-sand beach with an array of human debauchery (and roaring fun) you won’t find in many places. Mardi Gras in NOLA is in the same overall league of party, I would say.
It is Memorial Day weekend in Pensacola, Florida.
It is a small beach town’s dream, simply put. It’s like Spring Break was for so many places, but – not nearly so destructive (PCola beach gets pretty trashed – yeah…but that happens with any crowd and it cleans up quickly).
I can give you a brief history of this event. Back in the 80’s, a group of LGBT folks figured they would bring their money somewhere no one assumed. It was fun. It worked well. Locals made money. There wasn’t much else going on and the thing grew from there.
It is the truest example of “money talks, B.S. walks” I’ve ever seen. But – it’s also much more than that. Keep reading.
So, as I foreshadowed by mentioning “Old South” and “Deep South” earlier. That’s where Pensacola, Florida is. Mobile, AL is barely an hour west. There are as many or more churches in this town than bars…and there is plenty of both, along with all the modern and traditional “Southern” cultural trappings (The Foooood!! Stuff that’ll make you wanna sing a sweet holy melody! Woo!)
In large part, the local population is strictly tolerant of gay or queer people and things. They are good Christian folk – not angry – but they generally steer clear and they’ll have a thing or two to say about it in a private setting. If they get too much booze and/or drugs in them – they may say the wrong thing or two publicly. Not a knock, just the truth.
Also these are the best folks too. They have been to me, anyway. They’ll buy you a beer, give you a ride, hell – give you their couch – they’ll laugh with you – tell you amazing stories – cook you that mind numbingly good food (like…sex, man – seriously) – they’ll take you shooting or offshore fishing or on their friggin boat – you just find a way to relate a little and – “poof”…
The population of foreign transplants in PCola are also largely from the South…and they are mostly “cool” about it.
They have some close LGBT friends and will do a gay wedding if one comes up. But they will still often “play Southern” in public settings. They won’t be harsh, racist, or rude, but when these folks get around other Southerners that they don’t know, they’ll laugh off some stuff they might regret as we all do from time to time. These are lovely people I can drink wine with (chuckle) – and they always seem to own the best social party games (Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Pictionary, or Right, Left, Center)
The population of LGBTQ folks in Pensacola – is robust, I would say. But they largely keep to themselves. Lovely people who will sometimes buy me wine – and always like getting me drunk (more chuckling). Very rarely, they’ll touch a tad too much, but….they always know what’s up and I’m a type a guy who isn’t so rattled by that anymore. All kinds of people can be too handsy, lemme tell ya.
The population of openly accepting and tolerant heterosexuals – is fairly small as I find. They drink more wine than the Romans did and they’ll act a little pretentious, bless their hearts. Many are brilliant, tho – so…they are fascinating folks to talk to (for a curious soul like me). They also like to talk about changing the world and stuff and I can usually dig that discussion.
If you haven’t gathered it already, I see all of these as generally good and decent people. All possess virtues and faults – same as me – same as everyone. Oh – and ALL of these people LOVE football (another story entirely). Not kidding…literally all of them. It’s impressive. It’s bizarre. It’s lovable.
But it’s a truly fascinating and attractive mix when you are exposed to it all. And for one weekend – the LGBTQ crowd simply throws all caution to the wind, raises the Rainbow Flag of love….puts out the call – and they party their brains out on Pensacola Beach. And so do a boat load of other people.
From all over the planet – they come and party their brains out and with every man-on-man dance or kiss – with every girl-on-girl kiss and boob, butt, or crotch grab….with everything that happens….comes the heavenly ring of the cash box. Over and over and over with little dollar signs floating overhead at every local bar, hotel, beach club, restaurant, retailer, beach rental and charter fishing service…
Memorial Day weekend in Pensacola has only one rival event, locally. Blue Angels weekend is the only other ridiculously huge event in Pensacola and Blue Angels weekend is free…..so…..there’s that for whatever that’s worth.
Also – An Aside – Naval Air Station Pensacola is the Blue Angels’ home base. The pilots are basically local rock stars (and for good reason). Also – this is a big military town. If you throw a rock in a neighborhood around PCola – you have a solid 14 percent chance of hitting a former Navy Blue Angel team member’s home. In most places, you have an 72% chance of hitting a currently active, formerly active, or reserve duty military family’s home.
The number of millions of dollars collected for this four day Memorial Day weekend event, tho – is a revenue stream ANY community would love to have. And this bustling Old South military town…is loving it.
Oh – right, yeah – the local drug slingers are making bank too. Can’t forget to mention them. They likely would anyway (and we’ll save further discussion on that for another day).
Point is – even if lots of Pensacolians are not big fans of the lifestyles involved in this thing – everyone in the Pensacola area knows the kind of needle-moving POSITIVE impact these people’s love and revelry can bring so – Pensacola welcomes them. Promotes them. Desires to have them.
Community Centers – paid for. Parks – paid for. Emergency Ops logistics – paid for. Local Government IT Systems – paid for. Playgrounds – paid for. BBall Courts, baseball, soccer, and football complexes….paid for.
Money and entertainment…working splendidly together as they do. And if you were not aware, the LGBTQ community has a TON of dispensable income. Pensacola has learned all about that and each year they eagerly await Memorial Day weekend with arms wide open.
OH – and you know what also happens each year during Memorial Day weekend in Pensacola??
That relatively small crowd of openly accepting and tolerant heterosexuals I mentioned earlier…grows…and grows 🙂 little by little. And so many other people become just a little more “cool” about it, primed and ready to understand more.
And the LGBTQ folks head back home and talk about some of the “fun locals” they met. The assumptions about the Deep South get to change – little by little.
Cultural change happens at such agonizingly slow speed, frustratingly slow. It’s a struggle to deal with at times.
But it happens.
When people from completely different walks of life get together, even if all they have are lame, base-line common interests like money and entertainment to share – it happens.
I’ve seen it.
And – like I said – they ALL love to talk football down there in Pensacola.
Literally all of them! Literally!