LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – After two years of canceled events due to COVID-19, Polk Pride returns this week with its largest event scheduled for Saturday.
It comes one week after 31 members of a white nationalist group were arrested on their way to a LGBTQ+ pride event in a park in Idaho. According to court documents, the group intended to riot and came equipped with riot gear and a smoke grenade.
“It’s things like that actually motivate us to make sure that we’re continuing to push forward the message of acceptance and tolerance,” Polk Pride President Scott Guira said.
Polk Pride’s “Pride in the Park” event is Saturday, June 18 at Munn Park in Lakeland. The event is dedicated to the awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community in Polk County, according to its website.
Guira says the group is working closely with Lakeland police.
“Some increases to police presence have been made,” said Guira, in response to threats against LGBTQ+ events nationally.
The department confirms there will be additional officers working the event. No threats have been made against the local event, according to a Lakeland Police Department spokesperson.
“It’s terrible that we live in a world where this sort of extreme behavior and extreme feelings about people are out there,” said Guira. “But we definitely had some people reach out to us to understand what was going on and what we were gonna do to make sure we were taking the necessary precautions.”
There is more enthusiasm for this week’s Polk Pride events, with higher-than-ever turnout, according to Guira. He is expecting thousands of people at Saturday’s Pride in the Park event at Munn Park.
“People need to come together. We’re looking forward to seeing faces we haven’t seen, hugging people we haven’t hugged and making sure that everybody knows that Polk County, the community, is a place that everybody can be in,” said Guira.
The Polk County School Board recognized June as Polk Pride month at its boarding meeting this week. Guira received the proclamation.
“The school board stood up and said that this school system in Polk County is inclusive of all people and that we were gonna make sure that we made that proclamation so that the next generation knows that it’s a place for all of us,” he said.
Pride in the Park is a family friendly event, Guira said. The event will include a kid zone, live entertainment and 140 vendors.
Guira says he will not be deterred by the threat of extremists.
“Those concerns are out there but we are doing everything we can to make sure we have the best, safest, fun event,” said Guira.
Pride in the Park will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Details on other events taking place Thursday and Friday can be found on the Polk Pride website.