The holiday season isn’t always the “gayest”time of year for LGBTQ people. Although our society is seemingly coming around to be more accepting of LGBTQ people, many still face family hurdles during the holidays.
Unfortunately, there are still several churches openly opposed to those with sexual orientations or gender identities that oppose the religious norms. And while many religious families are fully accepting of their LGBTQ family members, others are not accepting at all. All too often, LGBTQ people are forced to choose between family and friends, giving up a part of who they’ve been for who they are.
My Gulfport Family
For me, my family is small, not particularly accepting, and 1500 miles away in Ohio. The United Methodist Church, the religious experience of my youth, continues to steadfastly stay stuck in the 19th century when it comes to becoming an open and affirming denomination. My current spiritual fellowship of Quakers does not place any significance on any holiday, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise. It can feel lonely times, but fortunately for me I live in Gulfport!
When I became a resident of Gulfport, I was quickly adopted as part of the official “Gulfport Family”. This family is quirky, fun, loving, and accepting of everyone. It feels like a town full my favorite Aunts and Cousins…each unique, but all caring of one another. And the best part of Gulfport during the holidays? There’s no annoying Uncle Herb who feels the need to tell you why you don’t belong.
When I’m with my Gulfport family I feel loved, accepted, grateful, prideful, embraced, and content. I feel like there’s no other place on the planet I’d rather be. My friend once said, “you’ve just describe what it feels like to be ‘home’.”
So this holiday season has been all about me being Home for the Holidays in Gulfport. And this year, I’ve decided to go full-on-out with the Gulfport family.
Gulfport Holiday Happenings
Per usual, there are so many holiday events in this town that it has been hard to attend everything. Since Thanksgiving I’ve been on a holiday whirlwind of music, lights, food, singing, community and absolute joy.
My holiday festivities began when I when I went over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving and ended up at the beach. Our Gulfport family had a huge gathering under one the Gulfport Beach pavilions. A couple of the local restaurants provided us with turkey and ham while the great cooks of Gulfport provided the rest. The highlight of the event was when our bohemian bunch of beach bums sang along to yukalaylee while a pod of six dolphins danced and entertained us in Boca Ciega Bay.
Just a few days later was the tree lighting ceremony, the event that kicks off the Christmastime celebrations in Gulfport. To truly enjoy this event, you have to appreciate all things “hokey.” Per tradition, the littlest of the littlest kids kicked off the celebration with a performance. It’s always a fan favorite moment, because the kids are adorable. Then came time for the tree lighting, which is the mayor’s responsibility. Inevitably, the mayor’s attempt to light the tree fails on the first try. After the tree was lit, Santa arrived on an antique fire truck, lights and horns a-blazing, waving to the crowd along Gulfport Boulevard up to Clymer Park. The former mayor of Gulfport then led in the singing of “Here Comes Santa Claus” which very few of us knew the words to, but our rendition of “la da da da dada la da la da” was amazing.
The very next night I attended the Bay Voices concert at the Gulfport Library. The Bay Voices is a gay male choral group which the library’s LGBTQ Resource Center has hosted for the past four years. This talented group of hunky silver daddies performed to a standing-room-only-crowd of gays and allies singing both traditional and new arrangements.
Last Saturday, Gulfport put on the Holiday Hoopla. Speaking of quirky, this is by far the quirkiest of quirky holiday celebrations. The Holiday Hoopla is a celebration of arts, crafts, foods, live music and roving holiday characters set in a waterfront atmosphere amid bright, twinkling, colorful lights. Guests stroll the decorated streets filled with over 100 talented exhibitors and unique shops.
After I was all hooplah’d out, I watched the Boca Ciega Yacht Club Holiday Boat Parade from the comfort of a friend’s condo in Town Shores packed to the brim with lesbians…and three men.
The month is only half over and other events beckon. This past Saturday, the “family” got together again to pile onto the Gulfport Trolly and sing Christmas carols as we drove up and down Beach Boulevard during the bi-monthly Art Walk. There are also several upcoming house parties, including one gathering on New Year’s Eve that is alcohol free.
Gulfport may not be Oz, but if Dorothy ever visited during the holiday season she’d click her Christmas ruby red slippers together and exclaim “There’s no place Like home! There’s no place like home!”
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Written by Greg Stemm
Greg is a 35 year resident of Pinellas County with the past 18 living in Gulfport. He’s worked in festival management, economic development, meeting marketing, training and for an educational division of Apple Computer. He had his own marketing and PR firm throughout the 1990s before becoming the Executive Director of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce. Today he focuses on freelance writing and as a leading social activist.
Greg is a founding board member of St. Pete Pride and prior 2005 Chairman. He currently serves on the Gulfport Public Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center committee and on Pinellas County’s LGBTQ Marketing Group. He is a 26-year survivor of HIV and often writes about his experiences. He is also an EPIC volunteer.
He is single, but the true love of his life is his year old Chiweenie puppy named Joy.
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