It Started With a Flag

Publishing Date: May 2, 2023 3:30 am

By Genece Minshew

Genece Minshew
Genece Minshew

In June of 2018, on a Tuesday evening, Mayor Johnny Miller decided to fly the Gay Pride flag over City Hall. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even in town. There was no organized Pride group in town, but there was and always has been a gay community that called Fernandina Beach and Nassau County home.

A crowd gathered and applauded the recognition that a Gay Pride flag represents. After that flag came down at City Hall, many of the people who were there signed the flag. We still have it as a symbol of acceptance and acknowledgment that Fernandina Beach is a welcoming and affirming city for all citizens.

As you can imagine, all hell broke loose, and later that fall a resolution was put forth to the city commission that allowed only three flags to fly on city property: the national flag, the state flag and the city flag – ignoring the fact that there was no city flag at the time. After a few rounds of back and forth, the resolution passed. However, during the discussion at city commission meetings, then-current commissioners strongly encouraged the LGBTQ Community to host a parade instead. At that moment, Fernandina Beach Pride was born.

We got to work and hosted our first parade and festival in June 2019. We had no idea if anyone would come. We had no money to speak of, so we raised small amounts of funds almost weekly. Kayak Amelia gladly sold our t-shirts in their store downtown. We got a few sponsors. Musicians offered to play for free. The police helped us with the logistics of the parade and the festival. We applied for a permit and received it. People offered to help.

Parade and Festival day came. Suddenly we had an event. All the city commissioners attended. Commissioner Kreger helped carry the American flag. At the festival more than 100 people got a free HIV test. A couple of local moms put together a kid zone, with yoga, ukuleles, art projects, face painting and glitter sunscreen. We had about 30 businesses and local non-profits sign up for vendor booths. We did have a short G-rated drag show with three drag queens that danced to music and had a grand time. About 1,000 people showed up and it was a day of celebration, love and acknowledgment.

One of the most memorable parts of the entire day was when the parade marched past Memorial United Methodist Church on Centre Street. A crowd of more than 100 people was standing there with signs that said, “You Are Loved.”

Then came 2022 and we held our second parade and festival with more than 2,000 attendees. Fernandina Beach celebrated with us.

But as we look back on the past year, we also see something very different. Something was changing. National and state conversations around gays, lesbians, transgender folks and drag queens have become divisive and hateful. Sadly, that same divisiveness and hate have shown up on our doorstep. Children are being used as a reason to deny our right to assemble.

But we will not be deterred. Fast forward to today. Even though the COVID pandemic shut us down for two years, we have not stopped working in and for the entire community. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce. We started our Pride Scholarship Program and to date have provided $8,000 in scholarships to local graduating seniors who identify as LGBTQ or as allies. We support and promote local groups such as the FOAR FROM HOME team, the Sugar Pointe Music Festival, the City Youth Advisory Board Movie Nights at Main Beach. We participate in local parades.

Who are we? We are your friends, relatives, neighbors. We are your doctor, your attorney, your local waitstaff, your public safety officer, your librarian, your nurse.

We invite everyone to come and enjoy our Pride Parade and Festival on June 10 at Central Park. It will be a day of fun, food, great music and – most importantly – love. We are proud to be part of the fabric of this community.

Genece Minshew is a retired telecommunications industry executive and a long time advocate and fighter for equal rights for all. She lives in Fernandina Beach with her partner of 38 years and a lazy Old English sheepdog. 

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Peggie Weeks
Peggie Weeks (@guest_68994)
1 month ago

Thank you, dear Genece! I was there that memorable evening when the Pride flag was first flown. I was there for the first amazing Pride festival and parade. And I will be there this year to celebrate as an ally with an incredible community. Love is love!

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel (@guest_68996)
1 month ago

We are all human beings…we live in the UNITED States..we are all governed by the SAME Constitution which GUARANTEES certain unalienable rights to ALL…why is it that some narrow minded individuals feel they have more rights than others and that their likes or dislikes should take precedence over others because they may be sitting in a seat of power? Those rights ARE America…some people ought to go back and learn what they mean.

Julia Newhouse
Julia Newhouse (@guest_68999)
1 month ago
Reply to  Paula Mutzel

Paula, i totally agree! However, sadly, $$$ and power seem to take precedence over fact and logic nowadays.

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel (@guest_69006)
1 month ago
Reply to  Julia Newhouse

Sadly you are correct…instead of teaching our children tolerance and love we are heading back into the dark days of hatred and division..we need to reverse course before it’s too late. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin when asked in Philadelphia what the Constitutional Congress had decided as to what kind of government we would have he said..” A Republic ….if you can keep it” . Seems we have been on the path of losing it for awhile.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_69034)
1 month ago
Reply to  Julia Newhouse

What fact??? What logic???

Trusted Member
1 month ago

Thank you, Genece, for the concise overview of the evolution of today’s Fernandina PRIDE. I, too, was there that night at city hall when the flag was first raised. It brought joy and tears to so many! I helped hold it for people to sign when it came down. And look what a wonderful inclusive organization it gave birth to! An addendum: After the Pulse night club massacre, there was a service for healing and remembrance at St. Peter’s. That same flag briefly marked the corner so attendees could know where to go and then came inside as we mourned and remembered.

Jean DesBarres
Jean DesBarres (@guest_68998)
1 month ago

Beautifully stated, Genece! I’ll be there on June 10 as I was for the raising of the Pride Flag and for the first Pride Parade. And, I’ll be there this evening at the FBCC meeting wearing my 2019 Pride Parade tee shirt.

Bettina Maunz
Bettina Maunz (@guest_69010)
1 month ago

This article reminds me that we all need to be more inclusive, kind and open to different perspectives every day of our lives. This will allow us to make better decisions for a more sustainable and peaceful future for all of us. 

Sheila (@guest_69012)
1 month ago

Thanks for being a beacon of love and inclusivitiy in our community. And thanks to all who stand up and speak out when so many are afraid to or apathetic to issues that marginalize people.

Taylor (@guest_69018)
1 month ago

Keep pushing division Observer,soon Fernandina can have it’s own violence as people ask why did that happen. In my observations most people don’t care about a parade or party.
You have one guy, one organization pushing back and the observer turns Fernandina into
into an online war zone.Apparently getting people riled up over a non issue is the Observers end game. We never had these problems in the past.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago
Reply to  Taylor

Taylor, it is a lot more than one guy who is pushing this ignorance and fear against our fellow community members. There are lots of people in our area who agree with Knocke, as well as Republican legislators in Florida and other states that are using that fear to pass their own hateful laws. It is encouraging to see so many people in our community speak up for love, tolerance, diversity, and acceptance.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_69033)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

The “silent” majority will carry the day………..this is Mayberry, not LA.

Debbra Sullivan
Debbra Sullivan(@debbrasullivanaol-com)
1 month ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Are you suggesting that the “majority” is full of hate and desires continued discrimination and homophobia?? If so that is very sad and unacceptable. The Mayberry that I grew up with was loving and accepting.

Cameron M Moss
Cameron M Moss (@guest_69075)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

CDF is vigorously and publicly pushing a Christian Nationalist Conservative agenda designed to reshape the world to one that aligns with what they believe. They consider the LGBT community to be sinners – a view to which they are entitled; so don’t believe for a minute that they are truly accepting of the LGBT folk and their supporters, allies, family members and friends. They know that they cannot confront the topic head-on (though some did unapologetically last night) so they seek out the tender underbelly of the community – our love for and protective reflexes for children – and use that as a cudgel to marginalize those of whom they do not approve. My opinion.

Sandy (@guest_69232)
27 days ago
Reply to  Cameron M Moss


Evelyn C MCDONALD (@guest_69023)
1 month ago

Here’s an interesting example of a controversy over popular culture. This one was a song that was accused of being inspired by forces outside the US. One state passed legislation outlawing any form of entertainment that was a threat to the American way of life.

The song – “You’ve got to be taught.”
The play – South Pacific.
The date – 1949.
The outside force – Communism.
The threat to the American way of life – interracial marriage.

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
1 month ago

That song says it all . . .

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six, or seven, or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Roger Conrad
Trusted Member
Roger Conrad(@conrad2k)
1 month ago

I firmly believe in free speech. This gives people like John Knocke, and his hypocritically named Citizens Defending Freedom, the right to believe what they want, but does not give them the right to control other people’s behavior. Is he any different from the Taliban in Afghanistan? The Taliban members clearly believe that women have very circumscribed rights and status in society, and use their power to limit women’s rights.

I firmly believe that we need to protect children from all manner of harm. Perhaps Mr. Knocke feels the Dallas Cheerleaders should be shut down for sexually suggestive routines? Hooters girls probably put that restaurant off limits. He assuredly believes that internet be shut down because it’s so easy for a child to click “yes, I am 18.”

Mr. Knocke is well within his rights decide whether his own children go to watch the parade, to change the channel the TV when cheerleaders come on the screen, decide where his kids will eat their burgers and he can put parental controls on his internet and cable TV connection.

Mr. Knocke, and his Citizens Defending Freedom, do not have the right to decide what’s right for everyone else and their children. Imposing his views on others is not what Freedom is about.

Joyce Tuten
Joyce Tuten (@guest_69046)
1 month ago

Beautiful article!

Alan Hopkins
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
1 month ago

Serious question. Why would you limit your scholarship to those that are LGBTQ? One form of discrimination doesn’t justify another. If you really want to fight discrimination give your scholarship to the most deserving person. Even if it’s a Bible thumping Christian. You don’t fight division with more division. 

Btw I spoke in favor of the parade to at the city council meeting. I want to get that out before all your “Friends” try to cancel me.

Sheila (@guest_69074)
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Hopkins

If I’m not mistaken, they also give scholarships to allies of LGBTQ as well as need.

John Rasmussen
John Rasmussen (@guest_69087)
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Hopkins

Good for you. Now what to do about Jack?

Sandy (@guest_69231)
27 days ago
Reply to  John Rasmussen

Maybe you should just focus on yourself before considering what to do about others.

Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller (@guest_69048)
1 month ago

Man, it’s suddenly really dusty in the room im in….

Joe (@guest_69101)
1 month ago

Who cares! Just be a decient human!