BY ROBIN MIMNA
“It’s about representation,” said Josh Rios, co-chair for Lake Helen Pride. “The kind that shines a little brighter in a city like ours.” An appropriate comparison, since Lake Helen is known as “the Gem of Florida.”
In June of 2022, Lake Helen Pride held its first Coming Out Celebration in the city’s iconic old bank. When an announcement was made that we would join DeLand Pride under the Support Volusia umbrella, response was mixed.
Over a hundred Facebook comments flooded the post. Many offered support, but the outrage of a few sparked a contentious debate. People said there was no place in Lake Helen for a Pride group, and we should keep it to ourselves. My neighbor stopped speaking to me. A couple of residents took our logo and mission statement and created a pretend “straight pride” group to mock us. Board members felt threatened, and some considered quitting.
Because even though Lake Helen has a long history of struggling with prejudice, it also has a passionate sense of community, and a reputation for defying expectations.
With the help of Support Volusia, and dedicated volunteers like Joy Taylor, president of the Lake Helen League for Better Living, we were able to get our first event off the ground.
“For me, it’s for LGBTQ2+ youth in our community. For them to see Lake Helen as a place of acceptance and safety,” Taylor said.
Mark Shuttleworth, former mayor of Lake Helen, offered the old bank as one of those places, and our first fundraiser quickly sold out. Not only did Lake Helen support us, but people from all over Volusia came out for the event.
This first big success gave us confidence to start monthly meet-ups, which have been consistently well-attended. We were humbled when the UCC church in Lake Helen provided support and a place to have some of our first meetings. In December, we rode with the GEMs on the Butler Express to raise funds for Toys for Tots.
Today, the Pride flag hangs proudly above the old bank for Pride Month, and many residents have reached out to tell us how much this representation means to them. It’s with them in mind we prepare for our anniversary celebration on June 25 and reflect on our mission to be a positive force, not just in Lake Helen but all Volusia County.
Recently someone asked me, “How do you manage a Pride group in such a small town? Don’t they run you out?”
I just laughed and said, “Nah, that’s not how we do.” Because in Lake Helen we are Gems first, before we count the sum of our differences.
— Mimna, of Lake Helen, is co-chair of Lake Helen Pride.