Proud in face of vi­o­lent hate

Stonewall Fes­ti­val will cel­e­brate while hon­or­ing vic­tims

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - SPOTLIGHT - By Johnny Diaz

Af­ter learn­ing the news of last Sun­day’s mass shoot­ing at an Or­lando gay night­club, Fort Lauderdale R&B singer Kat Rig­gins knew she had to ad­just her playlist.

Rig­gins, who is sched­uled to per­form Satur­day at the an­nual Wil­ton Manors Stonewall Pa­rade and Street Fes­ti­val, thought in­spi­ra­tional songs such as “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and “Imag­ine” by John Lennon would res­onate with the crowds.

“I had planned to keep the set mostly up-tempo un­til now, but I feel this is a nec­es­sary al­ter­ation,” Rig­gins says. “It will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for the au­di­ence to con­nect with each other. While this is an in­cred­i­bly dis­gust­ing night­mare come to life, I truly be­lieve that mu­sic is a healing agent.”

Healing and stand­ing united will be dom­i­nant themes at this year’s fes­ti­val, which draws more than 20,000 gay peo­ple and their friends to cel­e­brate love and equal­ity.

The free event, which fea­tures a pa­rade and en­ter­tain­ers on var­i­ous stages, com­mem­o­rates the 1969 Stonewall Ri­ots in New York, which be­came the cat­a­lyst for the mod­ern gay-rights move­ment.

Fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers say last weekend’s mas­sacre un­der­scores t he i mpor­tance of show­ing LGBTQ pride. To pay trib­ute to the 49 peo­ple who were killed in the Or­lando mass shoot­ing, a mo­ment of si­lence will take place be­fore the 6 p.m. pa­rade, which starts at North­east 20th Street and heads to­ward Five Points Plaza.

A group of 49 peo­ple will be dressed in white, each hold­ing a plac­ard with the name of one of the vic­tims. Forty-nine white bal­loons will re­leased.

Fes­ti­val at­ten­dees should ex­pect in­creased se­cu­rity.

“They may no­tice a lit­tle more po­lice pres­ence, be­cause safety is The South Florida PRIDE March­ing Band makes its way down Wil­ton Drive dur­ing the 12th an­nual Stonewall Pa­rade and Street Fes­ti­val in Wil­ton Manors. the No. 1 con­cern for this,” says Jef­frey Ster­ling, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wil­ton Manors En­ter­tain­ment Group, which or­ga­nizes the fes­ti­val with the city of Wil­ton Manors.

He ac­knowl­edges that bal­anc­ing the cel­e­bra­tory na­ture of Stonewall with the re­cent tragedy has been chal­leng­ing.

“You’ve got the tragic side, where you want the quiet show of re­spect, the sad­ness,” Ster­ling says. “But by the same to­ken, you’re a fes­ti­val, which is sup­posed to be high spir­its, not a bunch of peo­ple all up­set. You want to show that we are not go­ing to be in­tim­i­dated, that this makes us stronger, that we are uni­fied and give ev­ery­one sup­port.”

Chris Ru­d­is­ill, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Stonewall Na­tional Mu­seum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale, agrees.

“Com­ing to­gether now as a com­mu­nity hon­ors all of the lives that were taken in the events of Sun­day morn­ing in Or­lando and helps us re­mem­ber that Stonewall Chris­tian Fritzen dances with his daugh­ter, Cylin Fritzen,2, dur­ing the 2013 Stonewall Fes­ti­val in down­town Wil­ton Manors. hap­pens ev­ery day,” he says. “This is the largest mass shoot­ing in Amer­i­can his­tory, and we can­not let peo­ple for­get that it was an at­tack on LGBTQ peo­ple.’’

The Stonewall fes­ti­val is one of the year’s big­gest in the South Florida LGBTQ com­mu­nity. Wil­ton Drive, the main drag in Wil­ton Manors, over­flows with at­ten­dees sport­ing rain­bow-hued shirts and shorts, beads, hats and tiaras. They carry flags to show their pride, which has long been as­so­ci­ated with the colors of the rain­bow.

Last year, for­mer Ma­jor League Base­ball out­fielder and Mi­ami res­i­dent Billy Bean served as the grand mar­shal. This year’s event will fo­cus on lo­cal lead­ers and en­ter­tain­ers. Wil­ton Manors Mayor Gary Res­nick and all the city com­mis­sion­ers are the grand mar­shals.

The event be­gins at 11 a.m. at Ha­gen Park, 2020 Wil­ton Drive with a fam­ily-friendly vil­lage of bounce houses, face paint­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties. His­tor­i­cal pan­els from the Stonewall Na­tional Mu­seum AND Archives will be dis­played at the park. Opera Fu­sion, a South Florida opera group, will per­form there.

“We re­ally want to fo­cus on the cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional: Where did we come from? What is Stonewall? What is it about gay rights?” Ster­ling says. “There are younger peo­ple com­ing who have no un­der­stand­ing of where this all came from. You’ve got to learn from your his­tory to move for­ward.”

Fes­tiv­i­ties will con­tinue on Wil­ton Drive, where ven­dors and booths will line the thor­ough­fare be­tween North­east 20th and North­east 26th streets.

Stages will fea­ture mu­si­cal acts such as Rig­gins and the cast of “Heathers: The Mu­si­cal,” a mu­si­cal com­edy cur­rently run­ning at the Broward Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

Many of the bars along Wil­ton Drive will have their own in­door and out­door stages with per­form­ers and DJs.

“The sheer awe of be­ing around 20,000 plus peo­ple, it’s just amazing,” Ster­ling says. “To be able to par­tic­i­pate in one [fes­ti­val], even if it’s just walk­ing through it, is a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

JIM RASSOL/STAFF FILE PHOTO

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