Memorial Day Weekend
Memorial Day Weekend is a holiday weekend centered around Memorial Day, which takes place on the last Monday in May. The holiday was established after the Civil War to recognize fallen soldiers. In the South, it was known as Decoration Day, took place on May 30 and memorialized Confederate dead.
Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May as part of the Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968. The Monday closure of schools and many workplaces created a three-day weekend during which many Americans travel and take vacations. For beach communities like Pensacola Beach, Memorial Day Weekend effectively marks the beginning of the summer tourism season.
Since the mid-1980s, a number of gay and lesbian organizations in the South have gathered in Pensacola during Memorial Day Weekend for parties and other events, known collectively as the "Our Pride" weekend. Promoter Johnny Chisholm has organized many of these circuit parties since 1993, when festivities were located in the Pensacola Civic Center.
In 1993, after a WEAR-TV broadcast touted Our Pride weekends as proof Pensacola was "one of the nation's few gay-friendly communities," City Councilman Doug Proffitt wrote a letter (on city stationery) claiming to speak for "all God-loving people" in repudiating the label. The Council did not take an official position, but Mayor Jerry Maygarden said he agreed with Proffitt that "this community does not want to be known as the gay capital of the South," and State Representative James Kerrigan said Proffitt was "right on target."
In 2004, the gay and lesbian events drew as many as 60,000 visitors per year. Later that year, Hurricane Ivan damaged the businesses and infrastructure on Pensacola Beach, causing a tourism decline in subsequent years, but by 2007 an estimated 50,000 tourists arrived for Memorial Day Weekend.
Gay and lesbian patrons of Emerald City and the annual Abracadabra party are frequently met with demonstrators from local Christian groups, ranging from peaceful hymn singers to vitriolic open-air preachers to individuals displaying placards with a variety of inflammatory messages. In recent years, other groups have held counter-demonstrations, including Father Nathan Monk, a local Catholic reverend, and his followers, whose placards preach tolerance and acceptance.
- Gays Flock to Fla. Panhandle for Holiday. Associated Press, May 27, 2007.
- "Officials: Don't label city pro-gay." Sarasota Herald-Tribune. May 22, 1993.
- "Hotels filling fast for holiday weekend." Pensacola News Journal, May 24, 2007.