Gainesville officials, activists react to vandalism of Pride Center of North Central Florida

The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida was found vandalized early Saturday morning with the culprit leaving behind a hateful message.

The Pride Center is known for its activism for LGBTQ rights and for supporting members of its community throughout the region.

The attack came just weeks before the highly anticipated return of the Gainesville Pride Festival on Oct. 22, which was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Those who showed up at the center helped clean the mess left behind, sweeping up glass and rocks.

"Our Pride Center is a place where our community can come and be safe and feel welcomed,” said James Brown, the center’s vice president. “Seeing the center vandalized in this way breaks my heart. This incident is exactly the reason why our community needs safe spaces. Your board at this Pride Center will keep working hard and pouring our love into this community and on making this a safe space again."

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Gainesville police investigating vandalism as hate crime

Gainesville police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

County Commission candidate Mary Alford said it was the message left behind that evidence of a targeted attack, but adds authorities do not want to release its contents at this time, citing its investigation.

“Later I will be angry about this vicious hate crime but right now I’m incredibly sad for every vulnerable person in my community,” Alford said, adding that she faults some elected Republicans who have shared anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. “This does not represent the values of our community and we can’t be defined or stopped by the hate-filled actions of ignorant people.”

The Pride Center held an emergency meeting Saturday. The organization’s president, Tamara Perry-Lunardo, said the vandal or vandals will not detour their work in the community.

“We are heartbroken but undeterred,” The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida remains committed to being a safe place, and this display of hatred has only strengthened our resolve to continue to show up with love for our beautiful LGBTQ+ community. We’re here, we’re queer—loud and proud.”

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Pride Center in Gainesville vandalized; officials heartbroken