Cullman Comes Out event peaceful, despite online backlash

Several visitors at Depot Park sported LGBTQ pride flags. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The LGBTQ pride event Cullman Comes Out was held Saturday at Depot Park. In the weeks leading up to and the days following the event, community response has varied from enthusiastic support to critical backlash. 

Despite a barrage of negativity on social media, including private posts by a Wallace State Community College instructor that led to her being placed on administrative leave, there were no arguments or pop-up protests at the park on Saturday.

Organizer Gilly Shine, who creates content online as the “Sunshine Wizard,” said he was not concerned about any disagreements arising at the event, saying, “Most of these hateful people are just going to hide behind their computer screens and be mad.”

He added, “I came here yesterday to just hang out and there were two groups of people walking around, praying for us. Most of them were really nice.”

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper spoke to the crowd about the police presence at the event.

“Every event that is held on City property, we make sure that it’s safe and orderly. You are here in part because the City of Cullman recognized your First Amendment right and they granted you a special event permit to be here. The City follows the law,” he said. “I spoke here at Black Lives Matter, and I told them what I knew and what I didn’t know. I told them that I knew what it felt like as a chief to go tell parents of a young officer that he had been shot, but I didn’t know what it felt like to go tell the parents of a young black man that he had been shot by the police. I told them I knew what it felt like to pull somebody over on the lonely dark road as a police officer and be afraid as I walked up – what I would find when I walked up to that window, but I didn’t know how a young black man would feel being pulled over on that road by a police officer…Tonight, I’m telling you, I know what it feels like to be a Christian man; I don’t know how you feel as LGBT, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter, because the policy of the Cullman Police Department is to respect the rights of every individual and to prioritize them, and without fear or favor, we’re gonna treat everybody the same. We follow the law.”

Musical guests included Dakota Wright, Hassleinone and DJ Tony Alabama.

The event was open to all ages with several families in attendance. Many attendees said they had never been to an LGBTQ pride event before.

Organizer Matthew Sandford said that the event went “a lot better than I expected. We haven’t really had any riff-raff of any kind and a lot more people than I expected.”

Approximately 260 people visited Depot Park during the event.

Haven Garner, of Cullman, who had been to her first pride event earlier that day in Huntsville, said, “I’m very proud we’ve come this far.”

National nonprofit Free Mom Hugs was on-site. The nonprofit is “a group of parents, friends and allies who support the LGBTQIA+ community” whose members often act as stand-ins for unaccepting relatives by providing resources, education and support at community events, churches, colleges, etc.

Free Mom Hugs volunteer Marie Holliday said that, due to COVID-19, “We’re just now really getting out and trying to get the word out and getting people involved…everybody deserves love.”

Cullman Comes Out raised $160 from signed flyers and photos with Gilly, which will be donated to Victim Services of Cullman.

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