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Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors: 'relief and celebration'

Rocco "Rocky" Bowell moved from Cleveland to Fort Lauderdale seeking a safe harbor.

Being gay and growing up in Ohio, Bowell experienced many hate crimes. In 1999, about a year after he came out, he visited a pride event in Fort Lauderdale. A couple of months later, he moved to the city.

"It was a feeling of relief and celebration," Bowell says. "It was an exhilarating feeling, to say the least."

He's now the president of Pride South Florida and one of the organizers of Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors, happening Saturday along Wilton Drive.

The event includes a street festival, an LGBT parade and concerts, including one by headliner Sheila E. It honors the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, in which the gay community violently protested for days after police attacked Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the city.

Bowell wants festivalgoers to feel the same sense of welcoming he encountered during his 1999 visit to Fort Lauderdale.

"I think they realize that they are not alone, because a lot of people will come from smaller cities," he says. "We are a little lucky here in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, Wilton Manors. But when you go outside to smaller cities, sometimes it's not quite as comforting being an LGBT person."

Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors will begin at noon, with food and arts-and-crafts vendors, musicians and other entertainers taking to the streets from Northeast 20th Street on the south end of Wilton Drive to Five Points at Dixie Highway on the north end. The parade will begin at 7 p.m., and will feature about 25 floats.

"It's going to be larger than life," says Corrie Boyd, an event coordinator. "It's all about freedom: gay rights, gay freedom and being able to live your life the way you want to, not being judged."

The event will also attempt to break a Guinness World Record with a conga line of drag queens and kings. Organizers are asking for 150 people to stay in line and dance to "I Will Survive" for five minutes. The rules: If you're a man, you should look like a woman. So wear a dress, high heels and red lipstick. If you're a woman, this is your chance to don facial hair and suit up.

Sheila E. will perform after the parade and the conga line are over.

Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors, sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, will take place noon-11 p.m. Saturday, June 1. Admission is free. Go to Sign up to join the conga line at, @babicorb or 954-356-4710

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