By Jill Brooke
Before we celebrate how the talented Rob Gooljar of Iris Blossom in North Carolina showcased LGBTQ month, we want to clarify what is the difference between Pride Month which takes place in June and this fall celebration in October.
As writer Cassie McGrath explained, “October’s Pride Month is focused on honoring the visibility of LGBTQ people as well as the movement toward equality. LGBTQ History Month is meant to teach about historic figures and their contributions to the world. The holiday is celebrated in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots.”
For you history buffs, in 1969, cops burst into the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village sparking riots and subsequently the tradition of gay pride parades.
LGBT History Month was created in 1994 by Rodney Wilson, a high school history teacher in Missouri. The month is meant to highlight and celebrate the history and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBT History Month within a list of commemorative months. October was selected to coincide with National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), which was already established, and the anniversary of the first march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights in 1979.
October now also includes Spirit Day on Oct. 20, on which people around the country wear purple in support of LGBT youth; Ally Week, a week in which allies against LGBT bullying are celebrated; and the anniversary of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard’s murder on Oct. 12, 1998, which led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.
President Bill Clinton officially declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in 2000. Then President Barack Obama expanded the observance in 2011 to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.
What this means is that florists have two months of opportunities to celebrate equality, love and creative designs. It has become a tradition to create parade floats festooned with flowers, installations as well as personal floral bouquets. Flowers have also been very symbolic in the movement as we have reported.
Gooljar, who was awarded Best of Charlotte in the floral category among many awards, was originally commissioned to create a gay pride float for Lowe’s Home Improvement, which is based in North Carolina. When it got canceled, the sustainability-minded florist came up with the idea of three “flower bomb” installations around the city to “bring these pride floral fantasies to life.”
And of course, he creates colorful imaginative floral arrangements at the retail store, with his business partner Becca Whittier.
For these floral bomb installations, he told stories through flowers of his own journey too. For example, he used pin cushions for his “Trinidad” roots and color-blocked rainbow hues in the “community colors” and anthurium dyed in pinks and purples.x
Gooljar cares deeply about connections and community since prior to opening Iris Blossom, he was working on a PhD program focusing on economic disparities and gentrification issues at the University of Charlotte in North Carolina. “Then the pandemic happened and I wanted to work in an area less depressing,” he admits.
His exuberant style and color sensibilities attracted clients immediately and awards came pouring in. Now he and Whittier are working full-time at the retail store while creating floral arrangements that tell personal and cultural stories.
“We do something different focusing on floral art so people see it and stop, ask questions, and want to touch it and smell it,” says Gooljar. “What we do really is love through flowers.”
And celebrating love in all shapes and sizes is what these two pride months are about.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD . She also is a floral editor for aspire design and home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.