Hampton Roads’ PrideFest hopes to draw large crowd in defiance of fear, in support of Orlando victims

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VIRGINIA BEACH – Organizers and supporters of Hampton Roads’ annual PrideFest celebration this weekend are hoping people overcome any nervousness they might have in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando and attend in large numbers.

“I’m very worried that people will stay home out of fear, but I don’t believe that will be the case,” said Michael Berlucchi, president of Hampton Roads Pride. “I think people understand that our cause, as it relates to justice and equality, is as important now as it ever has been.”

(Courtesy of Hamptonroadspride.org)

(Courtesy of Hamptonroadspride.org)

About 25,000 people are expected at the event at Town Point Park, according to organizers. Norfolk Police Sgt. Craig Lovelace, the department’s LGBT liaison, said police will be “allocating additional resources to make sure the event is as secure as possible.”

Norfolk business owner Laurel Quarberg has attended PrideFest for about 25 years. Showing up Saturday in support of the LGBTQ community sends an important message, she said.

“To not show up would be letting the hate win,” Quarberg said. “We need to show up to show that we won’t let this kind of single-minded hatred scare us. We also need to show up to show each other we’re together.”

She will be at the festival this weekend with her wife and business partner, Sarah Munford.

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 injured early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, 29, who was killed by SWAT officers in a shootout, according to a summary of the events provided by the city of Orlando.

On Sunday night, a vigil in the parking lot of WHRO in Norfolk drew hundreds in support of the victims. Gov. Terry McAuliffe also ordered that until sunset Thursday all flags of the United States and the commonwealth be flown at half-staff over the state Capitol and all local, state and federal buildings and grounds to honor the victims.

Norfolk’s Hershee gay bar and restaurants The Green Onion and 37th and Zen are also showing support for those affected in Orlando, by donating 20 percent of their sales this week to the victims and their families.

PrideFest begins with a block party at 7 p.m. Friday at Scope and continues at noon Saturday in the park. The free Saturday event will feature a boat parade, music performances by Betty Who, Billy Gilman and more. Berlucchi was not yet sure what events will honor the Orlando victims and their families, but he said the shooting will be addressed. The mission of Hampton Roads Pride is to unite the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied communities in support of inclusion, dignity and equality of all people, according to its website.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we have to continue  to respond to the tragedy that occurred in Orlando,” Berlucchi said. “If there ever was a time to come to your Pride (event), I think most people know it’s right now — I hope that’s the case.”

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