VENICE — After a two-year hiatus, Venice Pride Inc. brought back its Pride Festival on Saturday, but in downtown Venice’s Centennial Park for the first time.
And perhaps for the last time, if public reaction to some parts of the event is any indication.
City Hall has seen an influx of emails complaining about a ring-toss game involving sex toys and scantily clad men dancing “provocatively” at the event.
“This pride festival could have been a wonderful platform to show love between people of all kinds, but instead was brought to a sexual level with booths such as a dildo ring toss and sexual dances with the comments from the performers that they were glad they ‘pissed people of Venice off,’” Lesli Andrews and John Kuhns wrote.
“CHILDREN were subjected to PORNOGRAPHY, a DILDO ring toss, and grown men ‘dry humping’ and ‘twerking’ in centennial park!” April McEwan’s email said.
City Council Member Rachel Frank responded to several of the emails.
“I am also alarmed and appalled with some of the footage I have seen from this event next to the children’s fountain,” she wrote. “I am working to understand more of the details and will get back to you. Thank you for reaching out.
The Republican Party of Sarasota County weighed in Monday night.
“An outrageous and unacceptable display went on Sunday at the Venice Pride Festival that requires a full investigation,” it said in a prepared statement. “A display of rainbow colored dildos were for sale at a sidewalk booth with children walking by, while a pair of drag queens in thongs, tutus and spike heels danced lasciviously in front of the gazebo in Centennial Park.”
The GOP noted it was an event permitted by the city and held on city property. It was also promoted on the Venice city webpage.
“All of this is wildly unacceptable,” the Republican Party of Sarasota County statement reads. “We are demanding a full investigation be launched into this affront to our children and our community. We need to know who approved it and who oversaw such a travesty.”
The city took posted a statement about the event on its social media page.
“This past Saturday, the Venice Pride Festival was held in Centennial Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This was not a City sponsored or hosted event. Rather, it was organized and hosted by Venice Pride Inc., which obtained a special event permit for it due to the use of public property.
“This was the first time this event was conducted on City property. It was presented to the City as an event which would be suitable for all ages with an objective to ‘build collaboration around community.’”
The post states the city was “very disappointed” that some of the events “did not align with the approved event description.”
“The City of Venice was not informed of and did not approve the details of these activities,” it states. “The City has begun reviewing and updating its special event rules and conduct standards to ensure that all future special events are appropriate for the planned location and are conducted as presented in the special event permit application.”
The permit application asks for a description of the activity to be conducted on public property and states that: “Upon approval licensee will use the premises only for the following activities described below.”
Applicants are given 800 characters to describe the event, including providing set-up and take-down times.
Promotional materials for the event advertised a “Kids Korner” that, according to a frequently asked questions item, would include “games, face painting and a caricature artist.” The type of games wasn’t specified.
Critics weren’t satisfied with the city’s statement.
“The people need to be heard. This statement is NOT enough,” Christine Generson Cannata wrote.
Several people said Venice Pride shouldn’t be allowed to participate in the Nov. 26 Holiday Parade, whose participants are approved by a parade committee, not by the city.
Venice Pride didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.