PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — LGBTQ+ leader William Shurbutt-Rardin joins News 13’s Kimber Collins for a talk about Pride Month on the Panhandle.

Shurbutt-Rardin spoke about what it means to be in the LGBTQ+ community in Northwest Florida.

“Here in the Panhandle, Pride means a lot to us because oftentimes in the state of Florida, we are kind of forgotten about up here in this part of the state. So much goes on in Tallahassee and down in South Florida where populations are larger and much more organized. So we kind of get left behind up here in a lot of big things, but fortunately, over the last several years our community has come together and we have organized and now we have multiple organizations here doing really great things,” said Shurbutt-Rardin. “It’s really important that we let other LGBTQ individuals here know that they have a community and that we are welcoming to them and we’re welcoming to all allies and that they’re not alone and that everything’s going to be all right.”

The message behind Pride is about inclusivity. Shurbutt-Rardin shared his experience growing the community in the Panhandle.

“To be honest with you, it’s been amazing. It’s been a lot better than what most people would expect. I’ve been doing pride events for about 9 years here locally. Everything from organizing our first Pride festival in 2018. It was the first event in downtown Panama City after Hurricane Michael and we had about 2,000 people to show up for that. And then various drag shows, parties, dinners, all kinds of things. I have been in multiple Saint Andrews Mardi Gras parades representing the LGBTQ community, and I’ve always used that as kind of a barometer of what is the general public feeling about us and I have to say we have some pretty amazing people here in Bay County and in Panama City and Panama City Beach,” said Shurbutt-Rardin. “We have been so welcomed by so many organizations and just people on the street wherever we go and fly our rainbow. Now of course you do have those who don’t agree with us, they don’t like us but a little adversity is what kind of drives us to keep moving forward and keep doing more and keep being seen and represent.”

Shurbutt-Rardin said there are many events this month and this year to keep the conversation open with the LGBTQ+ community.

“There are a variety of events and activities that are planned for this month and then again in October. October is National Gay History Month and National Coming Out day is on Oct. 11. So in October, we’ll be having more events as well as a large pride fest. But for this month, personally speaking, is that I just want to be an example to others in our local community to live their true life, live it with honesty, live it with bravery, and just have faith that things will get better,” said Shurbutt-Rardin.

“Historically, in the LGBTQ community in this country, we’ve always been on a pendulum and it swings to one side and we make great strides and we get somewhere and then things happen and it swings to the other side. Then we get knocked down like where we’re at right now with the state of Florida with all the laws going on and not just here in Florida, but all across the country. So unfortunately we’re on the negative side of that swing. But history has shown and proven it will swing back again, and every time it does, we advance that much,” said Shurbutt-Rardin.