story by Melinda Lejman
Pensacola has a decades-long history of being an LGBT destination. Starting in the 1960s with beach parties coordinated by local members of the gay community, the city is now home to full scale, weeklong celebrations leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, with events bringing in more than 200,000 visitors annually.
The celebrations originally started as a Fourth of July party coordinated by members of the Emma Jones Society, a sort of book club started by Ray and Henry Hillyer that turned into Pensacola’s first gay organization. Over the years, the parties have morphed from small scale beach parties, to gay “conventions” at the Hotel San Carlos, to public LGBT events at venues and businesses across the city.
Emma Jones was a fictitious character created by the Hillyers in order to create a post office box and receive publications from gay organizations without scrutiny from the local police. The Hillyers made arrangements for a female friend to pick up the contents from the post office and they would then share the materials with their friends.
Throughout the years, relations between the LGBT community and local government officials has been dicey, with local efforts to sabotage LGBT events and promote a more “family friendly” agenda to attract visitors to Pensacola. At one point, Emma Jones Society members stamped money just to show the community how much revenue their events brought to the city’s economy.
Today, LGBT visitors will find a welcoming community and a diverse mix of events to suit their taste, whether its beach parties, dance parties, or a low-key, VIP experience.
Check out this list of events with links for more info!
This year’s Memorial Weekend Pensacola event (MWP) presented by Johnny Chisholm includes a Glow Paint Party on Friday, May 25th featuring DJ Dani Turo, a Wave Beach Party on Saturday, May 26th featuring DJ Alain Jackinsky, and a Beachball Swimsuit Party on Sunday, May 26th featuring DJ Joe Gauthreaux. Passes to these Park East events can be purchased at johnnychisholm.com/passes.
Sexacola the 9th Annual Sexacola Beach event is billed as the biggest girl party on the East Coast! Hosted by My Sister’s Rooms (MSR), MC Chase Daniels & Jami Atlanta, all events are held at CAPTN FUN’s Beach Club and include a wet t-shirt contest, foam dance floor, and too many artists to name! Go to sexacolabeach.com for a full list of performers and events.
Pensacola Unleashed Pensacola Unleashed is four nights of action- packed concerts and live music live from Flounder’s Chowder House, open to all but geared toward the lesbian community.
Looking for a place to stay? MWP preferred hotels include the Pensacola Beach Hilton, Pensacola Hampton Inn, and Pensacola Beach RV Resort.
PensacolaPride at Portofino Looking for an alternative to beach parties? Check out Poolside at Portofino for an all-inclusive, VIP weekend of food, drinks, and fun. Book your experience now at portofinoIsland.com
Don’t miss Pensacola’s sugar white beaches! Visit the stretch of beach near the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore Santa Rosa area, which is an unofficial LGBT beach area. (P.S. LGBT couples wishing to tie the knot in Pensacola will find a picturesque setting and many local officiants are available for same-sex weddings on the beach!)