Venice Pride Festival vendor causes uproar over ‘icebreaker’ display

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Sarasota County for Web wwsb generic(WWSB-ABC7)
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 4:13 PM EST
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VENICE, Fla. (WWSB) - A gay pride festival last weekend at a Venice city park is causing a firestorm after photos of a vendor’s booth showing openly displayed sex toys surfaced on a website and social media.

The third annual Venice Pride Festival was held Saturday in Centennial Park.

On Monday, photos surfaced on the Libs of TikTok website of the CAN Community Health booth at the festival, which had a ring toss game incorporating the sex toys.

“It started out with freedom to love whomever you wanted. ‘Love is love.’”, the comments below the photos said. “Then it was more ‘representation’ and half naked kink parades. Now, it’s (sic) drag queen story hour in elementary schools, kid drag shows, and dildo ring toss. We’re so far down the slippery slope. Are we finally allowed to call this grooming?”

The city of Venice responded via Twitter Tuesday morning, distancing itself from the festival. “This was not a City sponsored or hosted event,” the series of tweets said.

“The City was very disappointed to learn that some of the actual event activities did not align with the approved event description. The City of Venice was not informed of and did not approve the details of these activities,” the statement said.

CAN Community Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the treatment, care and wellness of people living with HIV. A CAN spokesman says the display was meant as an icebreaker to discuss safe-sex practices.

Roger Capote, CAN’s vice president of marketing, also told ABC7 his organization did not know the event was being billed as “family friendly.” Had they known that, they would have brought a different activity to display.

“We do apologize for any way that it was misconstrued,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of false accusations being made out in the community of what we were doing, but the activities we do provide and the services we provide are geared toward adults.”

CAN released a statement Tuesday on their position. “CAN does not provide medical care to minors under 18 years old without parental consent. Our events and our activities are never advertised as children’s events and are used as ice-breakers to destigmatize our employees’ specialized and very sensitive conversations with community members.”

Capote said the organization is currently reevaluating activities they will bring to future pride events. “We want to make sure individuals feel comfortable enough to go ahead and break the ice with a funny activity,” Capote said. “That’s exactly what the activity was geared toward, to kind of be light-hearted, at a pride event where it is supposed to be fun and a little bit more open-minded.”

Nancy Wilson, a board member of Venice Pride, who organized the festival, said the festival itself was a success.

“We’re so excited to provide a community and family-friendly atmosphere for people to celebrate the diversity that is our community. We had performers, churches, and groups. It was an enjoyable and amazing experience,” Wilson said.

Wilson noted the city has not talked to Venice Pride about their concerns. “We’d like to unpack that,” she said. “There may be some misunderstandings. It’s important for us and the city to talk through what was in our program, how it lines up with pride events all over the state.

“People spread misinformation. We need to be sure we’re communicating clearly.”

Wilson defended CAN’s mission. “CAN has a 30-year history of communicating and educating in our community. We want to support that and we really believe we can do that in a way that is comfortable with everyone.”