Aug. 9, 2015
By: Katie Egan


June came and went and Michelle Hudson didn’t hear about any type of event for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender pride month.

After launching an inaugural community pride picnic last year, the Pride Center of SWFL wasn’t able to sponsor the second annual event so Hudson, owner of, stepped in.

“I thought that was a great opportunity to pick it up and just have a big celebration where the community could come together,” she said.

She wanted to keep the 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday picnic at Lakes Regional Park as close as possible to the historic June 26 Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

“This is just as fast as we could kind of get it together,” she said. “The whole idea was to support the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, other victories we’ve had, but then to remind people that there’s still a long way to go.”

Last year, 100 people came out to the South Fort Myers park pavilion — LGBT and otherwise. This year, Hudson said about 150 attended.

Lori Lamaritata, 50, attended the event last year and this year.

“It’s wonderful to see the youth — how they take over the community and events,” the Bonita Springs resident said, adding it’s harder when you get older because you have other responsibilities, like a full-time job.

“I think it’s just been too segmented within the LGBT community,” she said. “You’ve got the L. You’ve got the G, B. T and Q. The idea was to bring the L-G-B-T-Q-A together.”

A stands for allies.

At 1 p.m., guests stopped munching on their lasagna, grilled hot dogs and pizza to watch Hudson hand out three very special and impromptu awards: one to the youth advocate of the year; another to a collegiate counterpart and the final award to advocate of the year, Katherine Lowry.

Lowry is the founder of the Gender Equality Trust (GET) Network Foundation, a series of transgender support groups for youth and adults in Southwest Florida. She said her award wasn’t necessary, adding, “It’s the right thing to do, what I’m doing.”

Nicole Lamorte is the collegiate winner and past president of the Gay Straight Alliance at Florida SouthWestern State College.

“I didn’t expect to get the award. I was overwhelmed,” she said. She added it’s important to reach out, especially to youth.

“It’s good for the kids to know that people support them,” Lamorte said.

The youngest recipient, Emarie Wakefield, who won the youth advocate award, said it felt good knowing her hard work paid off.

The passionate and determined 9-year-old started a blog featuring her nickname, “Emmie Out Loud,” a year ago. She writes about things such as voting for representatives and urges readers to consider her future.

She aspires to be a Supreme Court justice, she said, because she wants to make the world a better place.

Click here for more by Katie Egan