NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Pride president Nina Borders wasn't looking to stir the pot when she applied to adopt and clean up a section of Moon Lake Road through the Keep Pasco Beautiful program.
Picking up trash was another link in a chain of good deeds meant to elevate awareness about LGBTQ contributions to the community while offering those who often feel left out a chance to get involved, Borders said.
But when a timely unearthing of dark history turns out to be a serendipitous indication of progress made, you might as well run with it, she figured. Especially when it happens smack in the middle of Pride month.
What Borders didn't know was that in 1993, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan adopted a stretch of Lake Road in the Moon Lake neighborhood.
That came to light after Borders announced her group's efforts on the Pasco Pride Facebook page, asking for volunteers.
"It just blew up," she said. "People who remembered were commenting all over the place."
Participants in the beautification program commit to picking up trash at least four times-a-year for two years. In exchange, Adopt-a-Road signs bearing the organization's name are erected along the road side, said Kristen King, coordinator of Keep Pasco Beautiful. Currently, 65 organizations participate in the program.
"It's extremely helpful because the country doesn't have to funds to pay staff to go out there and clean the roads, so this is a good way to help with that, she said.
Borders said her group selected Moon Lake Road based on need and on convenience to board members who live in the area. But it was also symbolic.
"I also knew Moon Lake had kind of a negative connotation as a KKK or white supremacist strong hold. We wanted to help change that," said Borders, who moved from Orlando to Pasco County four years ago when her wife landed a job here.
Feedback on the Facebook announcement was mostly positive, Borders said. Some people shared pictures of the KKK Adopt-a-Road signs. Others directed Borders to old news stories.
"I didn't even think that the KKK could adopt a road," Borders said. "I didn't think you could do that if you were a hate group."
The KKK's adoption of Moon Lake Road ended years ago, said King, "long before my time."
According to archived news reports, the KKK Adopt-a-Road signs didn't sit well with dozens of Pasco residents who called county officials to complain. One placard was located at a school bus stop until county workers moved it two blocks up the road.
"What are we teaching these kids?" Jan Dickhaut was quoted as saying in a November 1993 Tampa Tribune article. "It looked like my house was the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan."
Signs were replaced after locals noticed that Pasco's traffic division misspelled part of the group's name, calling it the "Klu" Klux Klan.
County commissioners never considered rejecting the Klan's application because it met all the requirements of the program, according to a story in the St. Petersburg Times. Based on the First Amendment, barring the Klan could potentially open the county to costly litigation, then Chairman Ann Hildebrand said. That was something leaders in Missouri and Georgia faced after losing lengthy court battles to keep the KKK from adopting highways in those states.
If the group complied with program rules, the signs would stay on Lake Road, said Bob Sigmond, who was Pasco's utility projects director. The Klan could pick up trash, and members reportedly tended to the duty dressed in black pants and white button-down shirts sporting KKK emblems.
Commissioners eventually revised program guidelines so only major arteries could be adopted, according to news stories,though the Klan and a few other organizations were grandfathered in.
Flash forward to 2019, and the leaders of Pasco Pride say they welcome anyone to join their effort to serve the community, even though protestors have been a sign-carrying, shouting presence at Pride events.
"We were wanting to show some of these groups that discriminate and show up at our events that we are not what they say we are," Borders said. "We are here for the community and want to give back, and we are very much a part of this community."
In October 2018, the group hosted the first Pasco Pride Festival, followed by an annual Friendsgiving Dinner open to anyone wanting a meal on Thanksgiving. They sponsor a monthly Drag Queen Story Hour at the Paperback Book Exchange and the Valkyries Revolution Roller Derby at SpinNations in Port Richey. Members have been a presence at Pasco County School Board meetings to address the district's decisions on transgender policies. Most recently, Borders joined other civic leaders in the eighth-annual Celebrity Waiter Luncheon to raise donations for CARES, a nonprofit that serves local seniors.
Borders said she is anticipating some push-back, but is heartened by the initial response, especially in the wake of a somber anniversary. Three years ago, she was part of a team backing up Orange County first-responders working the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
"Something like that never leaves you," she said.
But there are signs the times are changing, she said — Adopt-a-Road signs.
More than 50 people have signed on to attend a safety meeting on July 10, Borders said, adding "we might be able to get through a one-mile stretch in no time at all with the volunteers we already have."
Among them is Jennifer Tabb, 46, who resides in the River Ridge Community.
"It's not about KKK verses Pasco Pride," she said. "It's about the organizations cleaning up the roads."
"I think it would be great if the community would come out to help," she said. "I'm not part of the (LGBTQ) community, but I want to help. Why wouldn't I support it? It's good for the community, and it's good for them to know that people support them."
NOTE: The Pasco Pride Adopt-a-Road Safety Training meeting will be from 5 to 6 p.m. July 10 at ZenfiniTea, 3501 Universal Plaza, New Port Richey. For information, go to www.facebook.com/PascoPrideFestival/. For information on other Pasco Pride activities, go to pascopridefestival.org. For information on Pasco County's Adopt-a-Road program, go to www.pascocountyfl.net/740/Adopt-a-Road or call Kristen King at (727) 856-7252.
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.