Following a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the seventh annual Manatee Pride Festival is making its return this weekend at the Bradenton Riverwalk. It will be headlined by local celebrity Beneva Fruitville and proceeds will benefit the local nonprofit ALSO Youth.
Created in 1992, ALSO Youth provides services and support for LGBTQ+ youth in both Sarasota and Manatee counties through advocacy, counseling services and education, and by offering safe, welcoming spaces at their youth drop-in centers. Due to social stigma and discrimination, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and ALSO Youth is dedicated to mitigating those numbers by building inclusive communities.
"One of the great things about Manatee Pride is that it is an outdoor event, so people can feel safe," says Fruitville. "It's by the river and it's a beautiful space of open air to perform in and to be around."
This year, the Pride Festival is especially meaningful. The “Parental Rights Education” bill (which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) is making its way through the Florida Legislature. The measure would ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Fruitville and ALSO Youth board secretary Craig Kaplan say they believe this weekend's event will lend a platform to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, from which they can be more vocal than ever about their support for equality.
"I think everyone is really excited to go out there and celebrate," says Kaplan. "And given the political environment, and what's going on in the Florida state Legislature, I think it's now even more important to show who we are, what we're proud of and how we can make a difference with the youth."
The festival will feature more than 50 food and crafts vendors and free health checks. There will also be live entertainment, including a children's group.
"The biggest thing to take away from any pride festival is that it's not about, 'We are special and we deserve special things,'" says Fruitville. "It's about, 'We have worked so hard and we have had to fight for everything that we have.'"
The Manatee Pride Festival runs from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at the Bradenton Riverwalk, 452 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Admission is free.