The heart has gone out of Flagler Pride for now, the five-year-old LGBTQ non-profit that had brought the annual Flagler Pride Fest to Palm Coast's Central Park. (© FlaglerLive)

The heart has gone out of Flagler Pride for now, the five-year-old LGBTQ non-profit that had brought the annual Flagler Pride Fest to Palm Coast's Central Park. (© FlaglerLive)
The heart has gone out of Flagler Pride for now, the five-year-old LGBTQ non-profit that had brought the annual Flagler Pride Fest to Palm Coast’s Central Park. (© FlaglerLive)

To the dismay of a following that had grown substantially over the years, what was to be the fifth annual Flagler Pride Fest at Palm Coast’s Central Park in a month was abruptly cancelled last week through a cryptic, short-lived Facebook post that was scarcely cleared up when what remained of the organization’s officials posted a not-entirely accurate statement attempting to explain the decision on Tuesday, and betraying infighting.

Tuesday evening, Eryn Harris, who had founded the organization and was serving on its advisory board–separate from the board of directors–resigned, the latest in a series of resignations that have reduced Flagler Pride to a shell.

“I’ve resigned from my position as founder and advisory member,” Harris said in a brief interview. She had stepped away from the board last January, along with two other board members–Garett Marinconz and Erica Rivera–ceding the way to a new four-member board plus an events chair and a communication chair. Her aim was to give the new board the chance to take its own road. She would continue to serve perpetually as an advisor, while Marinconz and Rivera were to serve on the advisory board until next month, when that board would be disbanded. (See: “Flagler Pride Installs Its New Board as It Looks To Be a ‘Beacon of Support and Empowerment’.”

Harris said she left the board “with a smooth transition. Should they follow the instructions that I have given them.”

Late last week Flagler Pride posted that “due to unforeseen circumstances, Flagler Pride Fest 2024 has been cancelled.” The event had started small four years ago, growing each year and drawing hundreds to Central Park for a day of festivities, music, and, before last year, when a state law that has since been blocked by the Supreme Court put them in question, very popular drag shows. (See: “Exuberant Pride Day Follows Drag Night as Palm Coast Goes United Colors of LGBTQ+ in Town Center.”)

Other than asking the community to “continue to support and uplift one another” and noting that the mechanics of cancellation would be addressed–vendor notification and the like–the post gave no other explanation. It drew significant, and significantly questioning, responses as people speculated whether there’d been political pressure to cancel the events, as had been the case with a few such events elsewhere in the state last year.

There had not been. The event was cancelled because of internal turmoil, not external pressure.

A Palm Coast spokesperson was unaware that the event had been cancelled, nor had the city received notification that it had been. But before long, as responses to the post accumulated in the comment section, the post was taken down, which only fueled more speculation.

Attempts to reach some of the board members on Monday failed. Quinn Vickers, the events chair, said he could not comment, and later apologized in an email, saying the call had caught him off guard as “we had already established that we wanted to meet with our Advisory Team before proceeding with a Press Release about our recent decision to cancel Pride Fest 2024.” Harris and Rivera separately had also said there would be more information subsequently.

By Monday evening the organization issued its cancellation press release: “After the resignation of four out of six board members, including the President and Vice President who were leading the planning stages, the organization has made the difficult decision to cancel the event. This decision comes with the intention of regrouping, rebuilding the board, and returning stronger for future Pride celebrations,” the release’s first paragraph stated.

The release did not explain why Tyler Matthew Jones, the former president, Skyler Loder, the former vice president, Christine Vincent Sikora, the communications chair, Calvin Vincent Neugent, the former treasurer, had resigned (Sikora explained in a text that commitments in Tampa prevented her from focusing on the organization locally). Maggie Potter, the secretary, was still on board. But the release did not enumerate by name who had and had not resigned, only quoting and referring to Vickers as the acting president.

Then came the release’s inexplicably caddy–and, according to Harris, inaccurate–third paragraph, which publicly and inelegantly chastised the founder: “The organization extends its sincere apologies on behalf of Eryn Harris, one of our Advisory team members. Harris’s premature direction on the recent social media post without awaiting an official statement from the organization was regrettable and not reflective of our organizational standards. Moving forward, all social media channels will be managed solely by the organization itself, as it should have always been.”

Harris had not asked the organization to apologize on her behalf, nor had given it permission to do so, nor was aware of the release’s composition, which the organization did not share with her before it was issued publicly, though at that point she was still on the advisory board. As for the initial Facebook post in question, “I did not write the post and didn’t post it,” she said. It had been the result of a meeting involving her, Vickers, Potter, and the current communications chair, Isebelle Brenes–all of whom had agreed on the necessity of an announcement.

“The reason for me wanting to resign is because of the dishonest statement being released on Tuesday,” Harris said, choosing her words carefully. “Pinpointing blame on me for a board-wide decision made it clear that it was no longer an environment in which I could provide my aid productively.”

A Facebook post on an organization’s page is, of course, an official statement. And given the threadbare state of the organization at the time, with its only two remaining board members in the room with Harris, there was no “awaiting an official statement from the organization,” since that was the organization. The release reflects the lack of experience or understanding of public communications by young board members, though its composition and dissemination in Harris’s absence reflects more malice, or at least a calculated intent, than haplessness.

Vickers would not answer when asked why Harris had not been included in the meeting that led to the press release, why she had not been shown the release before it was issued, or how he explained its inaccuracies.

The calculation is even more sharply apparent as the release pivots away from the issue at hand–the cancellation of the event and the public flogging–to an obsequious paragraph showering praise on Rivera and Marinconz, Harris’s fellow-advisory board members, to the exclusion of Harris. The paragraph has nothing to do with the matter at hand and is jarringly out of place, but may well point to who is driving what’s left of the organization at this point, if there is one.

Harris said she was not answering questions about whether she had difficulties with the board or her fellow-advisory board members. She stressed this much: “I just wish Flagler Pride all the best. I have faith that the active board is going to regroup and continue its service for the betterment of the LGBTQ community of Flagler County. I wish them all the best.

Getting clear, non-defensive explanations from anyone still in the organization has been difficult to impossible as wagons circled. On Monday, Rivera, who had asked for he original Facebook post to be taken down, and who urged FlaglerLive to delay reporting the story before the organization could issue a release, said she hadn’t “even sat down to figure out what happened,” but didn’t want to see the organization she said she’d built “fall apart.” The release was soon forthcoming, only to raise raise more questions than it answered.

Brenes’s contact information is nowhere available on the organization’s website. Potter, when reached, preferred to defer to Vickers who, when finally reached, only confirmed that he had written the release, and who was and was not on the board. He said those who left did so because of “time constraints, job constraints.” But he did not answer questions. Instead, and to every question posed, he rather absurdly read and re-read directly from the press release like an automaton.

The public response to the release on the organization’s Facebook pages was not kind to the organization as commenters, including Abbey Cook, the LGBTQ advocate who’d brightened many a Pride Fest and Jack Petocz, the student activist who led LGBTQ marches and walkouts locally and across the state, criticized the tone and method the press release–only to be shut down in turn: the comments were removed and further commenting disallowed, a stunning move by an organization predicated on inclusion.

Vickers would not say why the comments were shut down, again reading instead an unrelated portion of the release when asked. He did not say how or when the board would be reconstituted, only repeating the words of the release about the board–meaning himself and Potter–taking a “sabbatical.” He did not explain what that meant, or for how long the “sabbatical” would last. In sum, it is not clear how, or whether, Flagler Pride will continue to exist.

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