A Surprising LGBTQ Inclusive Destination: Pensacola, Florida

Episode 22 January 20, 2024 00:30:19
A Surprising LGBTQ Inclusive Destination: Pensacola, Florida
2TravelDads Podcast
A Surprising LGBTQ Inclusive Destination: Pensacola, Florida

Jan 20 2024 | 00:30:19


Hosted By

Rob Taylor Chris Taylor

Show Notes

When I was first asked to visit Pensacola, Florida I didn't know what to expect. Being very close to the FL/AL border and very near some towns that aren't known for being very welcoming/inclusive to LGBTQ people, I wasn't sure what to expect. It turns out that Pensacola is a surprisingly welcoming, open and supportive city, and that's what we're talking about in this episode and why it's a special Florida destination.

Complete show notes here!

As a destination Pensacola, Florida is one of the few cities in the South that intentionally makes space for diversity and inclusion, both in terms of community support and tourism. Talking with our guest, Sid Williams-Heath, representing the Pensacola Little Theater and the STAMPED LGBTQ Film Festival (president), he shares insights into what the city and private citizens of Pensacola have done to turn their town into a place where everyone can feel welcome, to live or vacation.

Highlights we chat about for visiting Pensacola include:

--beach vacation ideas

--festivals in Pensacola

--the Blue Angels

--enjoying historic downtown Pensacola

Beyond this, there is much more about Pensacola and exploring western Florida on the blog. Check out Fun Pensacola Things to Do, Penasacola Beach Vacation Ideas, and Perdido Key and West Pensacola.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:04] Speaker A: Welcome to two Travel Dads podcast. Here we share our favorite destinations, travel tips, stories from our adventures, and tips for saving money. Be sure to subscribe and check out our detailed show [email protected]. Podcast episodes. [00:00:23] Speaker B: Hey, this is Rob with two travel dad's podcast. It is just me today. Chris is not with me, but that means that I get a special guest. And today I have Sid Williams Heath from Pensacola, Florida, here to chat about Pensacola and all the reasons that I love it, that he loves. Yeah, we've got. I've got some questions for him about what makes it such a great LGBTQ friendly destination. Beaches, you name it. Thanks for joining me, Sid. [00:00:56] Speaker C: Thanks for having me, Rob. I'm really excited about it and good to hear your voice again. [00:01:00] Speaker B: I know it's great to actually chitchat. So I met Sid through. He asked me to come and participate in the stamped LGBTQ film festival in Pensacola, Florida, this last fall. And I was pretty excited to do that because there's not a lot of events and activities surrounding LGBTQ families. And so I got to participate in the family day portion of it, which was really awesome, and really, the whole thing was very inspiring to me. So I want to make sure we talk about that a bit. But first, I kind of want to talk a little bit about you because I find it's helpful to know a little bit about the person I'm listening to when I'm listening to a podcast. So why don't you tell us about you, how you found yourself in Pensacola and what your daily pensacolan life is like. [00:01:49] Speaker C: Okay. Well, Lord knows. How much time do you have? Because he loves a long story. So, originally actually born in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Small, small town, which, as people get to know me, it doesn't actually make a lot of sense, but it was a lovely upbringing. Small, quaint town. Studied journalism, PR at Ole Miss Hottie Tatti, and then found myself working at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, which really, really got the love of advocacy for the arts instilled in me. So worked in their admin department, and that was like half a decade in Savannah, and I got based in. We're getting to Pensacola, I promise. [00:02:34] Speaker B: I love Savannah, and we have a place up there. So talking about Savannah could be a whole nother thing we talk about sometime. [00:02:40] Speaker C: Like, if you're listening and you're not in love, then go to Savannah, because it is just the most magical city in the world. I love it so much. So much. Still working at SCAD, got based in New York, that was my main hub, a lot of boarding school areas there. And I met my now husband, who had just finished up dental school and was working at a hospital doing his residency. And, of course, we are there, thriving big city life, big queer agendas. And we decided, hey, we may want to relocate. And he's originally from Gulf Breeze, Florida, which is just right here on the outskirts of Pensacola. And it's funny because obviously, we'll talk about Pensacola and truly the big moves that they're making in the LGBTQ plus lives and all the offerings that they're giving. But I don't think it was ever his intention to come back when he left, and I certainly didn't really know the area, but it's Florida, so what's happening? But we came back, and there was this huge push over the last decade. And it's not just infrastructure. It is the vibrancy of Pensacola, its walkability, its affordable housing, its initiatives. Sure. In the queer community, its infrastructure for the jewish community. I mean, there are really just big moves happening in Pensacola. And if you're listening and we're here 15 years ago, you're probably thinking, not a chance. It was a good beach town, but it has made huge moves. And so we are grateful, one, to be back, and two, just to be a part of that growth and kind of help be a part of the story. It's been really special, and I'm certainly glad, Rob, that you were able to be a little bit a part of that story so far as well. [00:04:17] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, so with that and with kind of those initiatives and stuff you're talking about, what specifically is it that Pensacola has been doing or has on the docket that makes it such an LGBTQ plus, welcoming city? I mean, I've been there, and I get mean. It's kind of like the savannah of know. [00:04:37] Speaker C: I'll take it. [00:04:38] Speaker B: Yeah, the downtown is beautiful, and you can tell that it is an arts city. But besides being artsy, which tends to really have lots of LGBTQ involvement in it, what is it that makes it such a friendly and welcoming place for people and families like, I mean, we'll. [00:04:55] Speaker C: Start definitely with your very first point, which is their commitment and their investment in the arts, because, yes, as you say, that tends to be a more accepting and progressive community as a whole. And for the songs of Pensacola, we're teeny tiny, comparatively, to have a professional ballet, symphony, opera, museum of Art. I have the pleasure of running the Pensacola little Theater and the cultural center here. There is just a huge art scene, and it is not only important for destination and bringing people here, but it also has been used as a tool to retain and bring back talent, bring back people who maybe, like my husband, left and said, loved growing up there, but maybe something new for me. And so that's just been very evident, and it's been very attractive, particularly for young, professional queer folk. For me, when I got here. So that would have been in 2016, I was so surprised to know that there was a sustainable and honestly thriving LGBTQ film festival, because lord knows, had I had any way to see someone who lived or loved or looked like me on a screen in my little hometown, that maybe would have changed a multitude of things. And so immediately I start working at the theater. I say, how can I get involved with this film festival? And it was, I think, maybe four years in, and it was very nomadic. Who has the space for one night? And maybe we can set up a projector here for a different night. And I just tried to use the tools in my toolbox to offer that festival whenever I could. And so we made a permanent home here at the cultural center just so that logistically, one, it could accommodate more people, and two, we all know what a nomadic event can feel like. It's confusing, and do I go? But so to have that home was really special, and the town's rally behind it, whether that is participating in local events and festivals that will literally pay you to make sure that they are diversifying their impact and their offerings, like Foohoo festival, local grant organizations, private donors, just. And not even just queer donors, but people who say, this is our town. We want it to thrive. We want the vibrancy, how do we make it sustain? And so now we are about to enter year twelve, which seems crazy, year twelve of that festival, which, of course, you were able to attend last year, and it's only gotten bigger. What I love is that the normalized and the celebrated parts of the festival got so ingrained in the community that then, of course, we're going to keep pushing that limit. And, yeah, there are so many voids in LGBTQ plus friendly programming for families. And so it was three years ago that we even sprinkled the idea of, do we have family day? Like, what does it mean to have queer families? Because, of course, we call each other family within the community. But what about that population of people with kids or who want to have kids or who have married into kids? What does that look like? And so it was a very humble beginning, honestly, I think maybe 1215 people the first year it was certainly more than tripled the next year. And then last year, we got a grant from another huge source and a huge part of the growth and commitment to diversity in Pensacola. We got a grant from an organization called Sunday's Child. It was actually our second, the first one we ever got funded. The screen and projector that we've been using in theater specifically for the queer film festival. And this year it was to see how we could provide that programming for families. So individuals like yourself, truly people from all around the country, a great mix of local representatives, too. International speaking together. Yes. It was a beautiful and just diverse array of people speaking on what their corner of the queer family world looks like. So for me and my husband, particularly, we don't have kids, and we're one big, happy family, just like we are. But that's an itch that one day we want to scratch. And so, I mean, truly, to have someone like you on the stage talking about your journey to parenthood or hearing single queer moms who are doing it alone or who have found love since they've had children and how that incorporates. It was so eye opening. And then in the next room, because that one was for the adults in the next room to be having these animations and these games and all these activities, I swear I saw two year olds there, and I have chills talking about it, because, one, it was my first year as president of the festival, so that was just a really powerful way to go in. Year ten was huge. So year eleven last year had every right to maybe be a little bit more humble, but no, it really took off. And to see all those families, it was special. It's very special. [00:09:51] Speaker B: It was really cool. As a participant, I can't speak sometimes. A participant. And just like in attendance, observing everything, it was really unique in terms of LGBTQ events that I've either visited or participated in. Everything about. It had its very own character, and the way that you guys were able to showcase so many different films and subject matter, it was really phenomenal. So bravo. You guys do a great job. [00:10:26] Speaker C: Well, we're only as good as the people who, one, attend, and two, the supplemental programming and offerings that we're able to. Two, I want to go, like, two directions from there if I can. [00:10:38] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:10:39] Speaker C: One is not getting too far away from the Sunday's child topic who gave us those grant dollars this past year. So, again, maybe you're listening from a huge town who is very progressive, but again, while I'm impressed with Pensacola, we have to remind ourselves that we are basically in Alabama and said, have an organization who is also entering their 10th year this year, and they have membership. They get funding truly only by their members who support them every year, and they give out grants that are only driven through diversity and inclusion initiatives. And they're predominantly LGBTQ plus oriented, but that is certainly not the extent of their mission. In fact, their mission is solely diversity and inclusion. So, I mean, hospitals, nonprofits, artistic organizations, so many people will apply, and there is just that messaging of, we won't even consider your application unless we can see your nondiscrimination clause, if we can see the makeup of your leadership, because they are truly just trying to put their money where their mouth is to make sure that almost every organization is really, really focusing on how that we can be more inclusive. I don't know if y'all have something like that there, Rob. I just thought that that was so delightful here. [00:11:55] Speaker B: Yeah, that's really cool. So, I mean, we've got, like, the St. John's Arts Council and such is Sunday's child. Very specifically only Pensacola, or like, the panhandle? [00:12:04] Speaker C: It is. It's just Pensacola. It was started by a small group of people about ten years ago that said, hey, we know that individually we can do something, but we're much stronger together. Let's let this be the focus, and we'll give out grant dollars. [00:12:19] Speaker B: That's awesome. That's really cool. And then what was the other. You wanted to mention something else about that, too. You said you wanted the other direction. [00:12:27] Speaker C: Is, I like to dabble, if you can't tell. So visit Pensacola. Obviously, tourism destination organization for Pensacola does a beautiful job, and I have the pleasure and the privilege of being the treasurer for that board of trustees right now, too. But for even the culture of their initiatives and their focuses, when they found out that Rob was coming and that obviously in tandem with the film festival, they. No, this is something that we want in on. We would like to take Rob for half of this trip because we want to make sure that he's seeing so much more, because we, too, think that there's a void in queer family friendly activities, and Pensacola really has something. So I just thought that that was important to note, too. Is that truly? Sure. Their goal is marketing, but they're very specific on the messaging that they're trying to present to the rest of the world, which is we want to showcase, we want to hear from, we want to learn and offer things for gay families, which I also thought was very special. [00:13:25] Speaker B: And I think so for me, working in tourism and having lots of conversations with people from all over the place, and particularly in the panhandle, it's really encouraging and unusual to have a destination in the panhandle, be actively pursuing that form of reaching out to the LGBTQ community, and either whether it be just like getting us in there as representation so that we can get our own photos that show our family enjoying it, or if it's just getting onto our channels to share with people, it's great to actually see that because I know that there are at least two destinations there in the panhandle who have openly stated that they do not have an LGBTQ initiative and have no intention of specifically seeking out that type of coverage and involvement within their destination. So seeing that from Pensacola, which is so much bigger than those smaller panhandle towns, is really cool. And I think it's great to be a trendsetter on things like that, 100%. [00:14:28] Speaker C: And as we know, if one thing controls anything, it's money. Honestly, between me and you and quite literally everyone listening, that's why I've really enjoyed being treasurer for visit Pensacola. Because to dive into the great marketing that their team does and to have a board, I'm certainly the only queer representative, and I'm only there representing arts and culture. But to have everyone on the board go, no, we need to backtrack. Can we dive into that? We don't think that this demographic is actually getting enough funding, and that's not just LGBTQ plus, but to say, the black community, that's a huge makeup here, and we have so many things to offer. Let's change how we're spending our dollars. So it's not just one big gay world. They truly have a great diversity of their leadership and their intention. [00:15:20] Speaker B: Yeah. The great example for everyone here in the south. So just a couple more questions about stamped, and then I do want to talk some more about, too, because clearly you're the ideal person to talk about both of these things. As far as what you guys have going on with the stamped film festival for 2024 and the future, what are either some goals or some things you're already working on that we can expect to see? Or, like, what do you want to really accomplish with this year being year twelve and looking towards year 15? What have you got on the docket, of course? [00:15:55] Speaker C: Well, from a timing perspective, then we're actually having this conversation, like, just a couple of days too early because we meet as a board for our annual eight hour retreat next weekend. And so, I mean, truly, we all lock ourselves in a room and hash those things out. What was successful about last year? Because last year, of course, being the family focus, but the year before that, the focus was creative professionals in the LGBTQ world. So how we want to really gear next year. And so I certainly won't speak for everyone since we haven't had the opportunity to have that. But I'll tell you, from the conversations we have had, we are so glad 112 years of a gay film festival just. It's unheard of, in my opinion, and it could have gone terribly wrong and that's vulnerable of me to say so I'm grateful that it didn't. But since it has gone well and since the funding has been there and since we are growing our audience the next year, the next five years are what happens beyond the festival. How can we use our platform to not only have other culturally events throughout the year coming out days, pride months getting those collaborations going, but from an educational standpoint, this is such an interesting time in higher education in Florida because there's so many limits on DEI. And so we've always been underdog is not the right word, but we've always been the one with the fewest resources to do those things. And now to have large universities looking at us like, how can you help? Because we quite literally cannot. And so how we can spend that and use our messaging, our resources to make sure that educationally there are still offerings for that demographic and not just over a four day festival, but throughout the year. So we have a lot of work ahead of us. But it's some of that work that you smile the whole time doing, but it's really a good time to make. [00:17:50] Speaker B: A difference, you know? So it's funny because growing know, I grew up in the pacific northwest that know so very liberal in comparison know the south. I also lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. [00:18:02] Speaker C: Well tied. [00:18:03] Speaker B: Well tied. Which is interesting because now the husky coach just went to Alabama and I went to University of Washington and then, ugh, the drama. Good times. Anyway, where I was going with that is that I grew up in a place that really was so much more liberal than down here in the south. And being able to hear that you guys have plans for education and expanding how you guys are a part of the community and encouraging. I think it's awesome. Let's talk some more about Pensacola itself because clearly it's a welcoming and awesome place to be as far as like, I know what my favorite things to do are. What is your absolute number one favorite thing when somebody's like, hey, I'm coming to Pensacola. Where do you send them? What is the thing that you think everybody has to do? What do you see as the big attraction besides the Pensacola little theater? [00:18:56] Speaker C: Well, and certainly we'll talk about why that should be your number one. I mean, I think that you just literally have to come and you just have to start your stay right. Smackdown town. Because the second you get here, you can absolutely tell that the walkability, the variety of restaurants and bars and art scenes and kids activities, it's all very saturated here in a very walkable, very picturesque space. What I love is whether that is from a tourism perspective or just a real person to person. Let's call the spade a spade. You come to Pensacola first and foremost, usually for the sugar white sand. The beach is stunning. It is unpretentious. It is something that you can just go let your hair down. But what I think makes Pensacola different and why I would strongly suggest anyone just give it a one shot is, you know, that day on vacation where, I don't know, maybe you got sunburnt the day before or, oh, no, now it's raining or the kid is literally driving you crazy and you're okay, well, what do we do? Because this is what we signed up for. This is the beach town. And that is my favorite part of Pensacola because it's those moments that you realize totally separate across a bridge. It's this downtown that has such a variety of things to do. So you come for the beach, but you really stay for the culture and the walkability. [00:20:22] Speaker B: Downtown, it's interesting because you say you come for the beach and there's Pensacola beach, right. Which is kind of a little barrier island in the Gulf. And then you've got the whole Gulf breeze section that you were mentioning earlier. And it's its own town, kind of. But it's in between Pensacola beach and then downtown Pensacola. [00:20:40] Speaker C: Yeah. It's actually its own county. And that's where we actually, our house is right across the bridge there. So, yeah, we're just squeezed right in between Pensacola and Pensacola beach. [00:20:51] Speaker B: Oh, that's. So it's the beach vacation. It's the downtown culture museum kind of city life vacation. But city life, that's the wrong word. How would you describe it? Because it's not city life. It's so chill. [00:21:05] Speaker C: Is it is, it is larger scale beach life. But you're not wrong. It's certainly become a little city. It's a quiet village. [00:21:17] Speaker B: Thank you, Belle. [00:21:19] Speaker C: Someone had to do it. Yeah. Well, it's that in between, too. And I think that the way we're talking about it right now will actually be very different terminology even five years from now because it's pushing forward the progression again, just not culturally, but infrastructure wise is just taking off well. [00:21:37] Speaker B: And so another kind of huge element of Pensacola is the base, right. So you've got this whole naval station there. You've got the blue angels being based there. Do you feel like that is either like a huge draw for the tourism side or has a big kind of influence on what the culture and the vibe of the town is? [00:21:59] Speaker C: I think it's all of the above. Because one, it becomes a very transient town at times because of course, you have people coming in and out specifically for that reason. But I mean, just the Blue angels. Oh, my gosh. From a tourism perspective. Yeah. If you're planning a trip and that's your jam. I mean, it is so fun to sit on the beach, watch that air show. [00:22:22] Speaker B: It's majestic show every day when the Blue angels are on. [00:22:28] Speaker C: So there are two main air shows throughout the year. And of course, and they do them not just in Pensacola, even though this is their home base, but you can see them practicing from time to time. It's very unplanned, but you know, when they come home every Sunday or almost every Sunday, you can't pinpoint the exact time, but you will see cars just pull up from the side of the road so they can stick their head out the window and look up. Because that kind of Sunday homecoming almost every week is always very special, too. If you don't see it, you can certainly quite literally feel it. But no, it's a huge draw. And again, for us, whether that's the volunteers we have at theater or the people coming to the film festival, it just always guarantees that we're not just reaching the same audience, but that we always have a revolving door of those willing to serve a military and also their families, but people that are coming to support them, too. So it creates a very nice transitional phase here in Pensacola. [00:23:23] Speaker B: That's pretty cool. It's such an interesting juxtaposition of you've got the military base, you've got the liberal arts downtown, you've got the beach. It's fascinating. A couple other quick questions and then I'll let you go because I know you've got life happening all over the place. When would you say is the best time for anybody to come and visit Pensacola? I know, right know it's January in Florida and we are not having Florida weather. [00:23:54] Speaker C: So I'll tell you. And there are so many ways to answer that question because, yeah, sure, summertime and beaches, my stock answer that will always be the first two weeks of November. We know that and we celebrate that through a festival every year called Foofu festival. And it's an arts festival, two weeks, great programming, grant oriented, we get to do kind of avantgarde things. But there is something about those two weeks, there is no rain, there's no humidity, you can still absolutely get in the water. It is God's gift to earth of weather every year. And some people like to wait and see the lineup of what the offerings are that year. But truly I tell people just to book Pensacola one or both of the first two weeks every year of November because it will be artier, bigger and better than ever. [00:24:42] Speaker B: So what is Bufu festival? [00:24:44] Speaker C: So yeah, not just a music festival. And truly they leave the brilliance up to the local nonprofit arts organization. So they usually have 4000 $500,000 worth of grant funds that they'll give out. And for like us as a theater for example, well, they said, well we're not going to pay for you to do a show that you were already doing. But what's something a little bit outside of your normal, just Baileywick of creativity that could really be interesting and draw people. But I mean that is theater, opera, symphony, the Quilters Guild, every restaurant and bar become friends of food to have drink specials and culinary tours. So I mean it's kind of just come one, come all and then it culminates around the great Gulf Coast Arts festival, which is just miles and miles and tents and tents of local artists displaying their awesome. [00:25:35] Speaker B: And that's, that's in. [00:25:37] Speaker C: I know, I know. Trust me though, the weather special. [00:25:41] Speaker B: One other thing about this, I totally forgot to ask you about it earlier. I know, because we talked about it when I was there a couple of months ago. You guys are doing a whole Renault project on the the know, we're talking about all these different arts happenings. We're talking about stamped and it all kind of revolves around this theater. What's happening in the Pensacola little theater? Is it going crazy? Are you guys renovating or demolitioning? What's happening? [00:26:04] Speaker C: Gosh, all of the above quite literally at points in this conversation I'm sure could hear hustling and bustling and alarms and things. We're in the old county jail and county courthouse building, very old. And then the theater actually theater has been around since 1936, but we bought it in 88, took about a decade repurposing to make it the cultural center. And so at the time I think that there were up to 26 nonprofit organizations that were in here. And now fast forward to today. Theater is certainly predominantly the biggest artistic representation, but we have the ballet, we have a literary federation, writers Guild, a church on Sundays, the gay film festival here. So it's very just kind of the hub for arts and culture. And I love the question you asked earlier about what's that one thing you recommend? What's that one place? And I say all the time that as wonderful as Pensacola is, we're missing that sense of arrival. Like that one place that you're like, no, if you're going to go stop there. And instead of just being broad like downtown, that's what we'renovating this space to be now. So quite literally the entire building is a bunch of dirt. It's our dirt, which is great. Redo the main theater that seats about 500, the black box theater. We are incorporating an art gallery. We have a public parlor bar. Right when you walk in, it's our atrium. It's quite literally the center of the center. It used to be exterior that connected the jail to the courthouse. We are adding a rooftop bar because we sit right overlooking the bay. And for some reason Pensacola does not have rooftop bars. But so we're making a whole rooftop performance venue where you can come have a performance, have a sunset, have a sip while all the other elements are moving along. So it's really becoming kind of the center of downtown at the center. [00:28:04] Speaker B: I love that. So that's the cool thing. The one thing that is going to be if somebody hasn't been there, they need to put it on their list is to come to the theater to see something happening there and get a rooftop beverage. I love that. [00:28:19] Speaker C: That's it. Yeah. And I'm obviously biased, but it's going to be timeless and a real destination, I think. [00:28:26] Speaker B: So you may be biased, but also I think there's a reason that you work both with the theater and the festival and with the tourism board is because you actually care and you live there and it's all a part of your actual life. So being biased is totally. [00:28:43] Speaker C: Okay, we'll take it right now for sure. [00:28:46] Speaker B: Awesome. Well, thank you for joining me today. I can't wait to come back to Pensacola. I love it. Going to have this and more. I've got, gosh, what? Three articles going live on the blog all about Pensacola and Pensacola beach and all the things to do over in Perdido Key, which we didn't even. Yes, because there's just so much in this little tiny slice of the Gulf coast that I love. So check out the blog for that and we will have all the links over there for everything, for the Pensacola little theater, for stamped for the city, all the cool stuff that we've talked about. Thanks for joining me today, Sid, and I know I'm going to see you sometime soon. [00:29:26] Speaker C: I cannot wait for that. Thanks for having me. And yeah, keep queering. We love it. [00:29:31] Speaker B: Awesome. Thanks for listening to everyone. And don't forget to hit that subscribe button and you can get us wherever you get your podcasts, whether that is iTunes, Spotify or Google podcasts. Have a great day and we'll talk to you later. [00:29:44] Speaker A: Two Travel Dads podcast is written and produced by Rob and Chris Taylor in St. Augustine, Florida. Check out past episodes in detailed show [email protected]. Podcast episodes if you would like to be on two travel Dads podcast, please send us a note through our website or find out [email protected]. Work close.

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