June 19, 2016 at 1:02 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Hampton Roads Pride honors Orlando massacre victims

Hampton Roads Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

A woman takes pictures of boats in Hampton Roads Pride’s annual Pride Boat Parade on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Va., on June 18, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NORFOLK, Va. — Hampton Roads Pride’s annual Pride Fest took place on Saturday against the backdrop of increased security in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Volunteers searched the bags of those who entered Norfolk’s Town Point Park in which the festival took place. Hampton Roads Pride said in a statement that it was “working closely” with the Norfolk Police Department and state and federal agencies “to support the safety of our events.”

“We didn’t consider for a moment not continuing,” Hampton Roads Pride President Michael Berlucchi told the Washington Blade on Saturday. “This festival is a celebration of the rich diversity of our community and it makes Hampton Roads a better place to live.”

Berlucchi told the Blade that he expected a “record” 30,000 people would attend this year’s Pride Fest.

Hampton Roads Pride’s annual Pride Boat Parade on the Elizabeth River was among the events that took place on Saturday. Many of the boats paid tribute to 49 people who died inside the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12.

Ohef Sholom Temple, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Norfolk, placed a wooden memorial on its boat. It contained 49 candles in honor of each of the massacre victims and a handwritten slogan with the Pulse Nightclub emblem that read, “Love has a pulse.”

Community groups and businesses that took part in Hampton Roads Pride also paid tribute to the Pulse Nightclub massacre victims.

“It’s extremely important that we are here,” Claus Ihlemann, who owns Decorum, a furniture store in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood with his husband, Robert Roman, told the Blade. “If we pulled back and showed fear than people like the guy who assaulted the people in Orlando [would] end up winning.”

Congressman Bobby Scott, state Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack County), Norfolk Mayor-elect Kenny Alexander and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms and members of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission were among those who spoke at Hampton Roads Pride.

A member of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)’s staff read a statement on his behalf to the crowd. Berlucchi also read letters he received from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

“I stand with you,” said state Del. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) as he spoke from the stage.

The Virginia Beach Republican, who is a former Navy SEAL, defeated incumbent Congressman Randy Forbes earlier this week in the newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District’s Republican primary.

“Leaders in Virginia stand with you because the attack in Orlando was not just an attack on the gay community,” said Taylor. “It was an attack on all Americans and what we stand for and our freedom and tolerance and being able to live our lives the way that we want to in happiness.”

Hampton Roads Pride also presented a scholarship in honor of Xulhaz Mannan, a prominent LGBT activist in Bangladesh who was hacked to death by members of an al-Qaida branch in his home in the country’s capital of Dhaka on April 25.

Mannan’s nephew, Raj Islam, who is a member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, said from the stage that his uncle was killed because of “his work elevating and validating the LGBT community in Bangladesh.”

“His work touched and enabled members of the community to come out through Internet dark sites and through peaceful protests,” said Islam.

Outhouse used to protest North Carolina’s HB2

This year’s Hampton Roads Pride took place nine days after a federal appeals court announced it will not reconsider its ruling in support of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student at Gloucester County High School who is challenging his school district’s bathroom policy.

The New Life Metropolitan Community Church of Hampton Roads encouraged those who attended Hampton Roads Pride to express their opposition to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 — which bans trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity and prohibits municipalities in the Tarheel State from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances — by signing a wooden outhouse.

Hampton Roads Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

The New Life Metropolitan Community Church of Hampton Roads urged people to sign an outhouse to express their opposition to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 during Hampton Roads Pride in Norfolk, Va., on June 18, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) told the crowd as she spoke from the stage that she was among the members of the Virginia House of Delegates who voted against House Bill 773, a religious freedom bill that critics said would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination in the commonwealth. The measure — which was also known as the Government Nondiscrimination Act — also defined “the male sex and the term ‘man’ and the female sex and the term ‘woman’ refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics of the individual at the time of birth.”

“Before the tragic events in Orlando happened, Virginia was able to prevent our own North Carolina HB 2,” said Price.

Tracey Swinarsky of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, also noted HB 2 as she spoke to the crowd.

“We really should be free to pee and pee where ever you want to and wherever you need to,” said Swinarsky.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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