By John Hayden
Robert Boo is excited about the reopening of The Pride Center at Equality Park. As their CEO he supervises a very detailed plan after more than a year of Covid-related closures, cancellations, and virtual services.
“We are so happy to be welcoming back groups and community members into The Pride Center where we can provide them a welcoming, safe space,” he says. “We’ve missed connecting with our community in person.”
The Pride Center is reopening in stages based on the situation with the pandemic which means hours, policies and guidelines often change. As part of the ‘new normal’ they’ve hired several customer service receptionists, who greet all visitors.
“I am so happy to welcome volunteers, groups, and the community back to Equality Park,” Customer Service Coordinator Samantha McCoy told OutClique. “I missed engaging with the many amazing folks that access services here on campus. This community is a home to so many people, myself included and not one day did I or any of my colleagues forget that.”
Groups using The Pride Center work with her to conform to capacity limits and modified rules.
Another new face is Danny Sprouse, who became their HIV Prevention Manager in March. He knows this mission is more critical now than it has been in years.
“As we emerge from the global pandemic, we are made aware once again that HIV continues to remain a significant issue of focus,” he says. “A focus for those living with HIV, to ensure reduced stigma and better health outcomes, as well as a focus for those who are not living with HIV, by continuing the educational efforts around condom use, PrEP services, and U=U.”
They are also working to bring back one of the LGBTQ community’s favorite events: Wicked Manors. This year’s theme is “Turn Back Time,” presented by Hunters Nightclub – Wilton Manors and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The popular block party returns on Halloween and benefits vital programs and services of The Pride Center.
“We are going to turn back time and celebrate for the past year and this year. There will be costume contests, three stages, fundraising bars throughout The Drive and so much more,” said Roger Roa, Director of Development and Wicked Manors Producer.
There are a myriad of programs that are returning to campus and benefit from the Wicked Manors spectacular. Their 12th annual LGBTQ Active Aging Health Expo will take place virtually on Saturday, October 16, 2021 from 10am through 2pm. It will be held in person at The Pride Center, along with virtual, online components for those unable to attend in person. HIV testing is once again available without an appointment.
The Pride Center also continues advocating for LGBTQ equality at all levels protecting social services, health care, programming, and the funding necessary for our communities to thrive. The trans community has been under increased attacks this year, and The Center has a new champion for their cause.
Earlier this year, they hired Zahne Williams as Transgender Services Coordinator. Williams is a 35-year-old U.S. Army Veteran born and raised in Fort Lauderdale and a strong and experienced advocate.
“My role is to help my community with housing, counseling, job finding assistance, HRT, whatever services the transgender community needs, I’m here.” Williams says. “Here in South Florida, transgender rights are virtually nonexistent and I want to help my brothers, sisters, and nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folx navigate those waters to get what they deserve.”
They say the best part of all this is that the services, meeting spaces, and programs are available in person. While going virtual was a lifeline, Boo says many benefit from being on-site with others.
“Having face-to-face support is vital for so many in our community, especially for those in recovery, those who are isolated and those needing life-saving community connection. I am so glad to be able to see people I haven’t seen in 16 months and reconnect with old friends and forge new connections.”
This year The Pride Center marks 28 years of serving South Florida’s LGBTQ community. Boo is proud of their accomplishments and of what is coming next.
“Even with limited resources, The Pride Center seeks the best, innovative ways to serve a diverse community in need,” he says. “Although as a community, we’ve struggled through trying times, but the Pride Center remains strong as ever and will continue to be here for our community. Together, we will continue to grow and evolve.”