Discrimination accusations against leaders hang over PRIDE Cape Coral 2023

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PRIDE Cape Coral 2023 kicks off Friday, celebrating inclusion and love in the city’s LGBTQ+ community. This year’s event, however, comes after the former city manager accused the mayor and council members of discriminating against gay employees and reluctance to support the pride festival.

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter says the allegations by Rob Hernandez—accusing a handful of city leaders of discriminatory employment practices against both LGBTQ+ and Black employees—are categorically false. Hernandez claims Gunter objected to a lesbian employee’s promotion, saying the city should not hire people like that for positions that come into contact with the public.

Hernandez says after he allowed an in-kind donation to be made to PRIDE Cape Coral in 2022 to help pay for security and traffic details, City Councilman Dan Sheppard told him the city should not be providing support to “those people.”

Gunter responded to the allegations in a meeting on Feb. 17, saying “The accusations against me are categorically false, and, apparently, his statements are retaliatory due to the Cape Coral City Council’s decision on Feb. 1, 2023, not to renew his contract.”

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter appears in the parade during PRIDE Cape Coral 2022. Credit: WINK News

Several states and individual cities have recently looked to change the way LGBTQ+ events are held or ban them altogether. In August, a group came to a Naples City Council meeting to speak out against allegedly “lewd” performances at the Naples Pride Festival. Representatives of Naples Pride were also present at the meeting to say those allegations were false. Some people in the Naples community are currently trying to push a ban on drag performances in front of children.

A new Florida law went into effect in 2022 prohibiting instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade. It also requires such instruction to be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” in higher grades. The law, officially called Parental Rights in Education, has been labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics.

Other states are taking things to another level: On Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law that will restrict public drag show performances.

PRIDE Cape Coral debuted in 2019 as a first-of-its-kind event celebrating all people from all walks of life coming together in harmony.

Drag performances are set for this weekend, and local entertainers say they’re fun for everyone of all ages.

“I know this year is gonna be just as fun and family-friendly, truly family friendly as, as we say it is,” said Andrew Spaulding.

Spaulding has been named Southwest Florida Entertainer of the Year and has been performing as a drag queen for almost 20 years. “I equate it like a comedian. They know how to do family-friendly shows. They know how to do raunchy shows.”

Alex Gonzalo is the entertainment director of Rascal’s in Fort Myers and also a performer this weekend. “It’s never really been an issue up until this point, and drag has honestly it’s, it’s really mainstream, whether you watch Mrs. Doubtfire on the movie on TV, or even if taking your kids to your normal Hooters”

Governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t see it that way. He calls drag shows “Inappropriate” for kids. President of the Florida Senate, Kathleen Passidomo, agrees. “If you bring in, you know, a 7 or 8-year-old, and I’ve been seeing photos of children as young as 5, that’s so confusing to them that I almost liken it to child abuse, frankly.”

On Thursday, a state senator filed what he called the “Protection of children” bill. The legislation calls for hotels or restaurants to lose their licenses if they “Admit a child to an adult live performance.” Critics fear the bill will target drag shows.

“Parents should know what to take their kids to. That’s the parents’ discretion at the end of the day,” said Gonzalo.

Organizers stressed all music and topics at PRIDE Cape Coral will be what they call “Family-friendly.”

If you would like to attend PRIDE Cape Coral, it takes place Saturday and Sunday, with activities beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday. There will be a parade, live entertainment, food, drinks, and vendors.

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