Thousands turned out for Rhode Island’s Pride Festival Saturday. Organizers expected the event to draw exceptionally large crowds following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Spirits were high among those who thronged the blocked-off street, lined with dozens of booths representing everything from LGBTQ athletic clubs, wedding planners, and dozens of vendors.
Lenore Costa came to the event from Swansea, Massachusetts.
“It’s an awesome day, it’s just a nice day for freedom and feeling like you can be yourself here,” said Costa. “It’s wonderful, everybody coming together.”
There had been some trepidation surrounding Pride events nationwide following the violence in Orlando, but Rhode Island Pride organizers were quick to announce the celebration would continue with heightened security.
Providence resident Mark Lima said he was heartened to see the thousands out despite sweltering heat. Lima and his partner have been together for 29 years. He remembers the first Providence pride in 1976.
“When it started there were maybe three booths, and it they were located near the statehouse, and everything was sort of discreet and clandestine, you know we lived sort of underground,” said Lima.
It was a sentiment echoed by East Providence resident Cindy Stevens, who’s also been with her wife for 29 years.
“Life is different now, and it’s nice to have a community where everyone is here, families, you know it doesn’t matter, a very supportive environment, so you know, it’s important to have these events,” said Stevens.
Coventry resident Sandra Richard oversaw an informational booth for PFLAG, a nonprofit support network for families of LGBT children. Richard says many LGBT youth still face discrimination despite progress. She says some young people are kicked out of their homes.
“You think that that’s not happening today, especially here in the Northeast, [where] we’re more accepting, we’re more liberal,” said Richard. “But that’s not the truth. The truth is there are kids still out there. You hear those stories all the time.”
Providence resident Vanessa Crum said she appreciated the open-minded atmosphere of the event.
“Everybody looks like they’re enjoying, everyone’s getting along,” said Crum. “It’s great. I mean we’re all people whether you’re gay, straight, or whatever you want to be. And everybody’s the same, and we’re just having fun.”
The events lasted well into the evening. The mood was a stark contrast to the somber vigils held earlier in the week to honor those who died in the Orlando massacre. In the wake of that shooting, the event had heightened security with officers milling through the event and conducting bag checks as people entered beer tents. Many people wore pins bearing #Orlando.