Monday, September 29, 2008

Annual Pride Festival held at Amphitheatre

Annual Pride Festival held at Amphitheatre

Publication Date: 09/28/08

As a pastor gave an invocation, a woman bowed her head and held a sign above it.

"Would Jesus discriminate?" the sign read.

The answer from the pastor and likely everyone else attending the Ancient City Pride Festival on Saturday was a resounding no.

Though the roughly 500 people there were to celebrate either their homosexuality or to support others', there were several reminders of why they needed to celebrate in the first place.

"It's a celebration of how far we've come and where we are," Lanny Ballard, the president of Ancient City Pride, said of the festival. "But it's also a reminder of how far we still have to go."

Ballard and his partner were married 16 years ago in New York, but the marriage isn't legally recognized, he said.

He hopes, one day, it will be.

But that day might not come, at least not in Florida, if a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between men and women is passed come Nov. 4.

The question posed on the woman's sign was a common phrase Saturday. It was on shirts, signs, banners and asked again by the Rev. Ruth Jensen from the First Coast Metropolitian Community Church in St. Augustine.

With Election Day a few weeks off, Jensen said, "We thought it was very important for our church to start asking an important question: Would Jesus discriminate?"

The crowd shouted, "No."

One woman yelled, "Hell no."

"The answer of course is no," Jensen said, "and Jesus would not want any discrimination written into the constitution of the state of Florida."

The amendment is backed by a coalition of churches and has been endorsed by several Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Beki Reyes, an openly gay St. Augustine resident, said, for her, the festival is about celebrating the gay community as well as taking a stand against the discrimination it faces.

Reyes, who sported a "Would Jesus discriminate?" T-shirt, said, "We're all one people from one God, and we all deserve to be treated humanely."

Donna Vaughn, a straight woman from Jacksonville, would agree.

Vaughn, who was there with about a dozen members of her church, said they were there to apologize to the gay community for the way some people had treated them in the name of God or religion.

"We feel like the gay community has taken a lot of crap from the so-called religious community," she said.

No matter where the "crap" comes from, Ballard said, there are still many people who, for a number of reasons, can't announce their homosexuality.

For those people, this year's venue might have been more conducive to being comfortable in their own skin.

In years past, the event was held at Francis Field in downtown, where a smattering of people protested homosexuality. This year it was held at the St. Augustine Amphitheater.

"In the South, you still have people who have to be in the closet, and this is a little more secluded," he said.

Whether Amendment 2 passes or it doesn't, Ballard said his community indeed has a lot to be proud of.

"Thank goodness we have people fighting for it," he said. "We wouldn't be this far if we hadn't had people fighting for it in the past."

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