The creation of Volusia Pride
By Christina De Paris
For Hometown News
Lisa-Marie Mueller grew up in an ultra-conservative town on the west coast of Florida, where she lived in a community that often turned a blind eye when discussing a polarized subject, such as homosexuality.
In high school, her principal, and the educators who worked for her, wouldn't risk losing their image, or maybe even their jobs, to advise the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group Miss Mueller and others wanted to form.
That resistance is what inevitably shut down Miss Mueller's first attempt at organizing an advocacy group for the LGBT community, but swiftly brought to her attention that she wanted to live in a gay-friendly environment.
She moved to Orlando after she graduated high school to attend Valencia Community College, and it was there where she interfaced with the gay community and its allies on a social level, as well as, in a volunteer environment for Gay-Straight Alliance events.
Miss Mueller reminisces about the festivals in the streets of Orlando, and the clubs that line them; all mixed in with the tall banks and all the other common places people gather. She enjoyed the fruits of a thriving community for gays in Orlando as a 20-year-old, but then she met a girl.
It was July of last year when Miss Mueller came to the east coast to live with her girlfriend, Karen, and enroll at Daytona State College. She didn't expect to find the gay community in Daytona Beach in the seemingly void state that she sees it.
There are Gay-Straight Alliance groups, and other political groups advocating for gay rights in the area, but Miss Mueller wasn't finding what she was interested in: a social group that would put on a Pride festival, so she co-founded Volusia Pride in the spring of this year.
Kristen Colesanti, a Daytona State College graduate, and Darlene Duncan, a native of Daytona Beach, are the other co-founders of Volusia Pride, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization under their parent organization, OneDaytona, the Daytona Beach Business Guild.
Miss Duncan and her partner, Charlotte Lambert, both from Ormond Beach, recall many years ago when The Zodiac Lounge, a known gay club for gay and straights, was considered imminent domain for the city of South Daytona and turned in the city's parking lot. Miss Duncan believes it was then that a noticeable migration of the gay community out of Volusia county occurred.
"That was the pretty much the focal point of the gay community and that was where you went to meet people and get together and have a good time," Miss Duncan said.
Both Miss Duncan and Miss Lambert have taken an interest in Miss Mueller's mission to regenerate the gay community by first coordinating a festival, and then by attracting gay industry back into the community.
Tom Brown, who is the founder of OneDaytona, serves as a mentor to Miss Mueller and the organization. He played an intricate role in acquiring the insurance for the Pride Festival planned for Nov. 10 at Riverfront Park on Beach Street.
The Rev. Susan McDaniels founded New Church Family, a gay-affirming church, and serves as another mentor of Miss Mueller's. She meets with the Volusia Pride organizers weekly to discuss insights and logistics on Pride festivals.
The Rev. McDaniels arrived to Volusia County from New York in the early 2000s with her wife, and was glad to see a semblance of an LGBT group in the area then, along with businesses that were operated by openly gay individuals or couples.
That atmosphere has changed for The Rev. McDaniels over the years, though. She recalls the last Pride festival in 2006 as having poor attendance and a flop in terms of community organization and involvement.
"I think the community has dwindled," The Rev. McDaniels said. "I think there used to be a lot of plugs that focused on the gay community that are no longer here. A lot of the people that are the movers and shakers aren't shaking anymore."
After Miss Mueller found The Rev. McDaniels through the church website, the two became resources for one another to share experiences, and also to perpetuate the celebration of the gay community once again in Volusia County.
"This is a new time, a new beginning and it is very exciting for us older timers to see a generation of something that so important to us and as a community," The Rev. McDaniel said.
Miss Mueller expresses her gratitude for the guidance and assistance of her mentors, both philosophically and also through donations for the Pride Festival, along with the input of friends or others.
"People can come to Volusia Pride and have those resources they might not have had otherwise and are able to spread the word in their area," Miss Mueller said. "We're just trying to branch out."
The festival is equally important for the families and friends of LGBT individuals, and the straight community to attend. Jerica O'Neal, of Port Orange, is a friend of Miss Mueller's and commented on the subject of homosexuality as a heterosexual during a Volusia Pride meeting she attended.
"I'm a supporter of homosexual relationships," Miss O'Neal said. "Everyone is equal and they should be able to do what they feel. I don't think (homosexuality) is something that should be such a stigma, it should be just there."
Outreach is fundamental to the success of Volusia Pride, which is why Miss Mueller is seeking out volunteers, or anyone interested in being a part of something substantial for the gay and straight community alike.
Volusia Pride has a website, and Facebook page, that provide additional information for sponsorship opportunities and details about the organization. Visit http://www.volusiapride.org.