Pasco Pride is planning its first LGBT event for October, and organizers say it’s long overdue for the county.
A pride event typically has live music, speakers, vendors -- and sometimes a parade -- to celebrate various sexual orientations and gender identities.
Denise Johnson, a transgender woman and president of Pasco Pride, said there's no reason for her to have to travel to a different county to celebrate her identity.
"My long-term goal is to see Pasco Pride become a destination pride,” Johnson said. “I want to be just as big, and as well-known, as Tampa, and as St. Pete.”
The yearly pride events in St. Pete and Tampa draw more than 200,000 attendees each.
The idea for a Pasco County Pride event has been considered since at least June 2016, when the city of New Port Richey held a candlelight vigil in memory of the 49 people who died at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
Critics of the memorial event said there was no mention of the victim's sexual orientations, and no LGBT people were invited to speak.
Johnson, a retired law enforcement officer and Air Force veteran, said that’s unacceptable.
"My understanding was they didn't know anybody in the community they could reach out to,” Johnson said. “Well, guess what? I'm going to introduce you to the entire community now, because I can't accept that excuse anymore."
She added that, so far, city and county officials – as well as local business owners -- have been receptive to the idea of a pride event being held in New Port Richey.
“The community is turning out to be as large as I had hope it would be, and I think it’s actually surprising some other people in the community,” Johnson said.
“We’re here, we’ve always been here. Let me help educate you so you’re not so afraid of us. We’re not trying to convert anybody or whatever horrific things may be in someone’s head. We are not that.”
Fundraising began in January, and will continue with a chili cook-off and Family Day in March, followed by a Community Health & Wellness Fair in April. Pasco Pride is also working toward 501c3 status.