PrideFest remembers Orlando victims, security increased for event

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On Saturday, the PrideFest atmosphere appeared to be complete celebration. As one person put it, it was a celebration in Solidarity for the victims of Orlando.

Saturday afternoon, Towne Point Park in Norfolk was swarmed with PrideFest revelers. Hampton Roads PrideFest brought people in by the boatloads. Some first timers like Rhyan Eisloeffel said they couldn’t stop smiling.

“I just think it’s amazing there are so many people here,” Eisloeffel said. “At first I was nervous about all the people. Then I was like, ‘wait there’s so many people just like me.”

Rep. Scott Taylor with Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms (Photo courtesy of Will Sessoms' Facebook page)
Rep. Scott Taylor with Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms (Photo courtesy of Will Sessoms’ Facebook page)

That nervous feeling for her, brought on she says by the tragedy in Orlando last weekend. A feeling that struck close to home for some people like Joey Heller.

“I have a lot of friends that were in Orlando,” Heller said. “It’s very difficult to actually have my friends affected by friends that they lost.”

All around Town Point Park signs of support for Orlando. Some memorials were in words, others in performances.

“The only way to describe it is celebrating in solidarity,” Hampton Roads Pride board member Andrew Davies said. “Thats what I think we are doing here. Right now. everyone is having a great time and each entertainer is doing their own little spin on a memorial.”

Party-goers headed into Norfolk’s Scope Arena Friday night were under the watchful eye of police as the annual Pride Block Party kicked off.

The block party was expected to draw around 5,000 people.

Guests were searched with wands before they entered and bags were closely monitored. Officers could be seen on foot, on bike and on Segway around the venue.

Very few people said they were concerned about their safety attending the Hampton Roads Pride Block Party on Friday.

“I’m not concerned about tonight,” said Troy Moran, as he walked into the Scope with friends.

Some had expressed concern to Pride President Michael Berlucchi after the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday. With the help of police, Berlucchi was vocal that the weekend’s events would be safe with increased security.

Norfolk PD, Hampton Roads Pride ensure PrideFest will be safe

Nikisha Reed calls herself an LGBT ally. She said the shooting in Orlando left her a little worried at first.

“I let it go, because I’m not going to let one person’s actions stop me from showing support with my friends that I said that I would go with.”

Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Inside the Scope, the celebration and pride was evident with colorful lighting, a DJ and dancing. At the center of the party, there was a neon sign that read ‘Pulse.’ Berlucchi said the sign was donated by a local restaurant in honor of the night club at the center of the tragedy in Orlando.

Guests said that it was more important than ever to show up for Hampton Roads PrideFest.

“It is important for pride to continue on, for us to celebrate this weekend,” said John Barker. “Because this shows that we have unity, we have love, we have pride. And it also shows that the terrorists did not win.”

Norfolk police said you can expect the same level of security on Saturday for PrideFest at Town Point Park. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people are expected at the event.

Local cities to increase police presence at LGBT events, large gatherings

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