Grand Opening

Project Pride's New Headquarters Provides a Gathering Place for Sarasota's LGBTQ+ Community

The new location “is about creating safe spaces while providing opportunities for marginalized groups within the community to meet and organize,” says Project Pride president Jason Champion.

By Andrea González March 15, 2024

Project Pride president Jason Champion
Project Pride president Jason Champion

Image: Dylan Todd

Snuggled in between a yoga studio and a former ballroom dance studio, the new headquarters of Project Pride is a beacon for Sarasota’s LGBTQ+ community. Located on Boulevard of the Arts in the Rosemary District, the cheerful facility, which opened in January, represents the culmination of the work the nonprofit has done so far.

Although formed in 2019, Project Pride didn’t explode in popularity until more recently. Taking advantage of what he calls 18 years of “longevity in Sarasota, pizzazz and connections,” Project Pride president Jason Champion says he was able “to pour gas onto what [had already been] created." He has worked to rally supporters and local businesses, impressing upon them the contributions the LGBTQ+ community can make through their voting and spending power.

“When Project Pride was formed,” says Champion, 48, “it presented an atmosphere that matched what my husband and I wanted to do—it represented us.” He jumped at the chance to make inclusivity and LGBTQ+ issues come into focus while providing a kind, friendly face for the cause. “As a 6-foot-2-inch-tall man, I ain't scared to stand in front of a crowd," he says in his charming Mississippi drawl. His efforts focus on elevating the organization’s “mission of changing one heart and one mind by having one-on-one conversations with business leaders and talking through how we can collaborate," he says. “Right now, it's definitely the right time and place and we're putting our stake in the ground.”

The grand opening celebration for the headquarters was designed as a sober social, underscoring the need for an inclusive community gathering. Through games and sweets, a diverse mix of straight and LGBTQ+ individuals shared laughter and door prizes and exchanged stories and insights, all in a relaxed atmosphere. The renovated space was curated on a shoestring budget, with images of iconic and groundbreaking LGBTQ+ change-makers on the walls and a welcoming living room arrangement reminiscent of a place where you might visit with close friends over tea, gossip and scrumptious homemade cheesecake.

Demystifying queerness is a big part of Project Pride’s work. Champion says that members of the straight community have shared on multiple occasions how much they’ve enjoyed the organization's events and have felt welcomed. “There's always going to be mixed opinions,” he says, “but I've never felt uncomfortable or unsafe anywhere. Sarasota has good people that live here. Seventy percent of the population just live and don't care about politics.”

The new location “is about creating safe spaces while providing opportunities for marginalized groups within the community to meet and organize,” Champion says. He notes that trans and lesbian groups have already begun to use the space, which can be reserved via a sign-up on the Project Pride website. Local and national resources for mental health, seniors and youth are also available.

The headquarters “gives us representation, because there's no bar or restaurant [where we can consistently] meet up and build a common group,” says Champion. He also points out that not everyone wants to or is able to gather at dining or drinking establishments, an acknowledgment of restrictions and isolation that grew into the organization’s Silver Pride initiative, which celebrates LGBTQ+ individuals who are 50 and older.

“I created it because I knew that the population needed celebrating,” Champion says. “Unfortunately, the elder LGBTQ+ community is often forgotten. They may have lost a partner, are single or have no children—it’s important to feel wanted and to have a purpose.”

Project Pride’s headquarters is located at 1370 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. For more information, visit Upcoming events include the Grand Carnival in Bloom at the Circus Arts Conservatory on Saturday, June 1; Silver Pride on Saturday, June 8; and the Gulfcoast Pride festival on Saturday, Oct. 19. Ongoing events include viewing parties for RuPaul’s Drag Race, disco brunches and LGBTQ+ dance classes.

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