Venice Pride Festival vendor causes uproar over ‘icebreaker’ exhibit

VENICE, Fla. (WWSB) – A gay pride festival last weekend in a Venice city park sparks a firestorm after photos of a vendor’s booth showing sex toys on display openly surface on a website and on social networks.

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

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

“It started with the freedom to love whoever you wanted. ‘Love is love.'” read the comments below the photos. half naked. Now it’s (sic) drag queen story time in elementary schools, kids drag shows and dildo tossing. We’re so far down the slippery slope. Are we finally allowed to call it grooming?”

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

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

CAN Community Health is a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment, care and well-being of people living with HIV. A CAN spokesperson said the display was intended as an icebreaker to discuss safe sex practices.

Roger Capote, CAN’s vice president of marketing, also told ABC7 that his organization was unaware the event was billed as “family friendly”. If they had known that, they would have brought a different activity to display.

“We apologize for any way this has been misinterpreted,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of false accusations being made in the community about what we were doing, but the activities we offer and the services we provide are intended for adults.”

CAN released a statement on its position on Tuesday. “CAN does not provide medical care to minors under the age of 18 without parental consent. Our events and activities are never advertised as children’s events and are used as an icebreaker to de-stigmatize our employees’ specialized and highly sensitive conversations with members of the community.

Capote said the organization is currently re-evaluating what activities it will bring to future Pride events. “We want to make sure individuals feel comfortable enough to go ahead and break the ice with a fun activity,” Capote said. “That’s exactly what the activity was geared towards, to be a little lighthearted at a pride event where it’s supposed to be fun and a little more open-minded.”

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

“We are excited to provide a community and family atmosphere for people to celebrate the diversity of our community. We had artists, churches and groups. It was an enjoyable and amazing experience,” Wilson said.

Wilson noted that the city did not speak to Venice Pride about their concerns. “We’d like to unbox this,” she said. “There can be misunderstandings. It’s important for us and the city to talk about what was on our schedule, how it aligns with Pride events across the state.

“People are spreading false information. We have to make sure that we communicate clearly.

Wilson defended CAN’s mission. “CAN has a 30 year history of communication and education in our community. We want to support that and we really believe we can do that in a way that works for everyone.

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