A lack of local events during the month of June — recognized across the country as National LGBT Pride Month — has for years forced Hernando activists and supporters to make treks to Tampa Bay's larger, historically more progressive cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to celebrate.
That's changing this year.
Marker 48 Brewing, a craft beer brewery and tasting room that opened along Cortez Boulevard nearly two years ago, along with a passionate group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates, has organized the county's first LGBT Pride event, set to take place throughout next week.
A celebration of identity and love, planners like Stephan Hoda, who originally conceived the idea, are calling the event a milestone they hope will make a mark on the county's LGBT history.
"If we can shine even a little bit of multi-colored light on this community, just a little bit of the rainbow, I think we will be doing a good thing," said Hoda, 31.
A beertender at the brewery, Hoda, who identifies as a gay man, says he first started to understand his identity as a child, when he met a bisexual person while visiting family here one summer.
Festivities next week, he says, will be his way of "paying it forward" to that person and many others who have given him the courage to be proudly himself.
Marker 48 manager Cindy Halley says the brewery jumped on Hoda's idea, seeing it as a way to further the business' effort to serve as a "safe place for everyone."
"We want Hernando to follow suit with St. Pete and Tampa by bringing more awareness and acceptance of diversity to our community," Halley said. "We want to serve as a place that promotes that."
There will be raffles, a movie night, a drag show featuring well-known drag queens from Hamburger Mary's restaurant in Clearwater and, of course, beer.
Proceeds from the event, as well as revenue from a specially brewed imperial Hefeweizen beer named Somewhere Over Our Rainbow, will be donated to youth services at Metro Wellness, an LGBT support and services center based in the Tampa Bay area.
If one talks with members of the LGBT community in Hernando County, most say they are comfortable here.
Discrimination isn't rampant, they say, and unity — whether at a local bar's Rainbow Night or in one of the few local support groups — can be found.
But Laura Fowler, another bartender, who said she gets goose bumps thinking about next week, said this event means something more than that.
As a gay woman living in the county since 2004, Fowler said there is still a lot of room for growth here when it comes to LGBT acceptance and support. She's holding onto hope that next week's event will open doors to make that happen.
"The fact that we can hold this event proves that we are finally getting somewhere, and that makes me super excited for the future," she said. "It's historical."
Halley says the event will not only serve as a celebration and way to raise awareness of LGBT issues, but as an overall statement about the direction Hernando County is headed.
Its purpose, she says, it to let people know "we are moving forward here. Not backwards."
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.