HISTORY OF RIVER CITY PRIDE
The year was 1978, nine years after the Stonewall riots that gave birth to the gay rights movement and Jacksonville celebrated its’ first Gay Pride Festival with a large picnic at Willow Branch Park, thus becoming yet another city nationwide to be out and proud. The Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Jacksonville (LGCAJ) was subsequently established receiving its’ 501 (c) (3) status in November of 1989.
In the years that followed, LGCAJ became an umbrella organization for many community service projects and the stepping stone for other non-profit start ups in Jacksonville such as: Out & About, Jacksonville Gay Pride, Unity Leadership, Safe School Coalition, The Lesbian Breast Cancer Outreach Project and First Coast Chorus.
In 1999, the future of LGCAJ began to look bleak as many of the board members had left to pursue other endeavors/careers and some had become victim of the AIDS epidemic. With the organization in limbo, attorney Kim Blankenship stepped forward to reinstate the organization along with the Jacksonville Gay Pride Committee. The organization was then renamed; Community Rainbows, Inc.
Two years later at the end of 2001, the Jacksonville Gay Pride Committee became First Coast Pride, Inc. acquiring the umbrella organization and re-established the Out & About newspaper as Out In The City. After many years, 2001 also marked the last year the annual Pride Festival was held at the fairgrounds and in 2002 FCP moved the festival to the Sea Walk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach. In 2008 the name was once again changed from First Coast Pride, Inc. to Merge, Inc. with the festival moving to Riverside Park.
At one time prior to 2008, the following organizations were housed under the 501 (c) (3) umbrella of Community Rainbows, Inc.: First Coast Pride, Out in the City, the NEFL Names Project, the FCP HIV Testing Project, the Ray Castro Foundation of the Arts, MyOITC.com community portal and Steppin Out Networking Socials.
Despite the largest crowd in its’ 30 year history for the parade, block party and a successful scaled back festival, low revenue would mark 2008 as the final year in the long history of pride celebrations in Jacksonville. The year would also bring an end to the newspaper, Out in the City, due to dwindling ad revenue sources and the inability to secure an editor in chief.
First Coast Pride/Merge Inc. disassembled in 2009 as the majority of board members had resigned for various personal reasons and funding was non-existent due to lack of leadership in sponsorship efforts. While there were attempts to resuscitate the organization unsubstantiated rumors/claims/accusations of large indebtedness and funding issues took its’ toll on all who were trying to put the organization back together and all pride activities were canceled.
In 2010, Jerry Rosenberg compiled a group of persons interested in bringing back a pride organization to Jacksonville and River City Pride was born. Starting with zero dollars, the LGBT community came together and re-established a Pride Parade and Pride Festival in October, 2010 to coincide with Coming Out Day. The River City Pride Organization not only raised enough dollars to finance the 2010 events but also made it possible to continue the events in 2011.
As of November, 2011, River City Pride was approaching a revenue balance exceeding $30,000 to take the tradition into 2012 and beyond.