Welcome to the Gayborhood

 

Words by Kelila Ritchie

Rainbows, loud music, infectious laughter, dance parties in the middle of the street. River City Pride is the place to be every October. It’s something I personally look forward to every single year. People from so many different walks of life, dancing together, drinking together, taking pictures together. It’s a day for everyone who participates to just be without fear of judgment. In either direction you look, you see people just thoroughly enjoying themselves. We don’t see a lot of that these days. So anytime I’m able to squeeze in some dopamine boosting experiences, I’m all for it. 

 

Riverside has been coined as the first “gayborhood” of Jacksonville, for many great reasons. Riverside became Jacksonville’s Pride headquarters following the first gay pride festival at Willowbranch Park in 1978. The event became so successful, it became an annual picnic. During the 1960s, there was a drastic drop in house values in Riverside resulting in “white flight.” This opened the space and opportunity for people from many different backgrounds to find community within this one neighborhood. Throughout the years, Pride events have seen some community backlash but Jacksonville overall has seemingly improved its LGBTQ+ visibility. During a time where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was less than normalized, the Willowbranch Library also served as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community back in the day. JASMYN, a prominent LGBTQ+ youth nonprofit in Jacksonville, actually has roots in the library. In 1992, 19-year-old Ernie Selorio was outed by his mother after she read his journal. Selorio asked for his peers to meet and help form an LGBTQ+ youth support group which resulted in a turnout of 10 people. From there, JASMYN was born and has since blossomed. JASMYN continues to support and provide support to LGBTQ+ teens and young adults around the city. 

 

Today, you will likely see modern hippies, happily gay couples, artists, musicians etc. at Bold Bean simultaneously. River City Pride has completely captivated the neighborhood of Riverside. There is a parade that goes through Riverside accompanied by a week of events in Five Points. She IS the moment. 

 

Jacksonville itself has a very colorful history with the LGBTQ+ community which is something we don’t talk about! Jacksonville served as a headquarters for different music genres such as blues, jazz and especially ragtime music. Many of the members who participated in creating Black music and sharing it with the world were members of the LGBTQ+ community. Professor Johnnie Woods was a well known performer, ventriloquist and “female impersonator” (more commonly known today as a drag performer) performed frequently at the Airdome in LaVilla before it was demolished. Another super cool fact that I did not know, Ma Rainey, a prolific blues singer, moved to Jacksonville with her husband to join Pat Chappelle’s variety troupe,The Rabbit’s Foot Company, in 1906. Rainey was bisexual and often talked about same-sex romance in her songs. A fan favorite is “Prove It On Me Blues.” 

 

Music often plays a vital role in gay spaces. Speaking of music, many Jacksonvillians have no idea about many different bars and clubs dedicated to creating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in Jacksonville (maybe it was just me but anyway …). Sadly, OGs like College Station, Bo’s Coral Reef — which closed in 2019 after 55 years in business — and the Metro Entertainment Complex are no longer with us, but Park Place Lounge, Boot Rack Saloon, Incahoots and others have been carrying the torch with new spots like Hardwicks Bar opening last month to rave reviews.

 

While River City Pride Festival and the always-popular parade through Riverside took place earlier in the month, it’s an important reminder of the purpose of Pride: to unite and celebrate our diverse community in the month of October. And if you missed it this year, be sure to mark your calendar for next year! 

 

About Kelila Ritchie

Kelila has dedicated her teenage years to advocating for injustices around her and in the world. Journalism is more than just a passion for her but a calling. She is dedicated to keeping her community informed and spreading awareness about social inequalities. Catch her on the beach any given weekend!