Security stepped up during Wilton Manors Stonewall Festival

WILTON MANORS, Fla. (WSVN) — As South Florida’s LGBTQ community prepares to come together this weekend in Wilton Manors, organizers said they are taking precautions to ensure everyone who comes out to celebrate is safe.

The Wilton Manors Stonewall Festival and Parade is one of the city’s biggest gay pride events. The festivities draw tens of thousands of people, and after the attack in Orlando, Sunday morning, organizers said they are taking no chances and are asking everyone to be vigilant.

“We ask for our public’s help, before, during and after this event.” said Wilton Manors Police Cmdr. Gary Blocker. “We want our public to report any suspicious activity or any suspicious information that they learn of.”

Friday night, security kept a closer eye across Wilton Manors bars and clubs. Bouncers said they are checking bags more closely and not allowing backpacks.

Outside Georgie’s Alibi on Wilton Drive, bouncer Trae Green said the mood is different. “They tend to stay more clumped together. Like, one guy said to me, ‘I like to know where the exits are now,'” he said. “They’re relaxed, but you can still feel it.”

Police said there will be increased patrols throughout the event. As of late Friday night, federal authorities said they have not received any credible threats.

Organizers said the massacre at Pulse Nightclub underscores the necessity of showing LGBTQ pride. Saturday’s festival commemorates the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, seen as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.

City officials said the festival will observe a moment of silence for the 49 people fatally gunned down at Pulse. “The beginning of the parade is going to be solely to honor the names and the victims of the shooting,” said Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick. “We’re going to have a part of the parade where each person who was killed is going to be recognized in the parade.”

On Friday, Fort Lauderdale honored the victims of the Orlando tragedy with a memorial service called “United with Orlando: Standing for Equality.”

Among the speakers at the service was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “This week was a week that had a tremendous low but also saw so many highs for all of us that promote and believe in love,” she said.

Outside the event venue, people donated blood in honor of the survivors, marking the start of a weekend of gay pride across the country. “All parts of the community are coming together to say, ‘We will not allow a crazy individual to define who we are as Floridians,'” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

Friday night, a meditation circle and fundraiser was held to help the victim’s families.

Speaking to 7News outside Georgie’s Alibi, Carlos Mejia said Sunday’s mass shooting is still very much on his mind. “Yes, I do think about it, but we cannot let hate take our peace of mind away,” he said. “We need to still go out and celebrate that we’re not afraid of hate.”

The festival begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the parade will begin at 6 p.m.

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