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‘To be free and who you are’: Pride South Florida to be celebrated Saturday, Sunday in Fort Lauderdale

2014-03-01 Pride South Florida 032

Click here to view a gallery of photos from Saturday's festival.

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Alyssa Hailey of Largo, Fla., describes LGBT pride as “a way of expressing who you are, and not having any doubts or insecurities to be free and who you are — to not worry what people think.”

A struggling “trans girl” singer with an iTunes album titled Alter Ego, Hailey will spread her message this weekend at the annual Pride South Florida festival at Holiday Park / War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.

Hailey, 28, began performing years ago as a gay man. “It never felt right. Nothing ever clicked and I felt like I wasn’t in my own skin,” she said.

In 2012, she began her transition and moved from Georgia to Florida. “I love it,” she said of her new home state. “I love the environment. It brought a new side of me out. People are very open-minded and not very judgmental.”

Still, Hailey believes she’s lost several recent job opportunities because of her transition. “I would get the call, they would run the background check and that’s where it would stop,” Hailey said. “I knew I had nothing on the background check that would prevent me from getting a job.”

Her driver’s license still shows her old photo and former name, Kenny Walker, which she has legally changed. “Some people take a second glance,” Hailey said. “Some people say, ‘Oh, you look pretty.’ I get different reactions from people. It depends on where I go.”

Hailey is among more than a dozen performers at the 2014 Pride South Florida. Headliners include Grammy-winning Sheena Easton, singer Tiffany, comic hypnotist Jon Simon and comedienne Judy Tenuta.

“Gays in general have to fight a lot of battles to be accepted and get equality,” said Tenuta, a Los Angeles-based comic who often performs at LGBT pride festivals. “I feel accepted as I accept and love them.”

Pride celebrations began worldwide following the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the first time gays and lesbians fought back against police persecution.

This year, LGBT people have much to celebrate, said Pride South Florida co-chair Marc Hansen, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last June ending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

“Stonewall was our lynchpin, our starter fire,” Hansen said. “Now we have the death of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ the death of DOMA. Gay marriage is popping up all over the place. Federal courts put in place by Republican elected officials are deciding that gay marriage bans are unconstitutional. The world is changing.”

The two-day Fort Lauderdale celebration is the “only consecutively run pride in South Florida,” said Hansen, who co-chairs the 2014 festival with Rocky Bowell.

“We’re 37 years old. We started in 1977. It actually started as a march and a picnic in Miami because of Anita Bryant,” said Hansen, referring to the Florida orange juice spokeswoman who led the ‘77 drive to repeal Miami-Dade County’s original gay-rights ordinance. “It became a ping-pong set. One year in Miami, one year in Broward. Which is why they called it Pride South Florida.”

Before long, Pride South Florida became permanently ensconced in Broward.

The festival originally was celebrated in June, when most other gay-pride events take place. Fourteen years ago, the pride committee moved the festival to take advantage of winter tourism, cooler weather and better sponsorship opportunities.

As Wilton Manors’ gay population boomed in the 2000s, a new June pride festival emerged, Stonewall Summer Pride.

Beginning this year, Pride South Florida will produce both festivals. “Because we’re a glutton for punishment,” Hansen said.

IF YOU GO

Pride South Florida runs noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Holiday Park / War Memorial Auditorium, 800 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission including parking: $15 one day, $25 two days, $100 VIP. Tickets and info: www.pridesouthflorida.org.

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