Celebrating Curacao Pride – including an engagement for gay Chicagoans

Mon. October 9, 2017 2:34 PM by Ross Forman

thomas teel and josiah gerkensmeyer

photo credit // curacao pride

Curacao Pride continues to grow in 5th edition, features speech from Prime Minister

Thomas Teel made a dinner reservation for Sept. 27, at The Pirate Bay at Curacao, a beach club and restaurant situated at Piscadera on the Caribbean island.

Teel had to be on the beach because that's a favorite spot for Josiah Gerkensmeyer – and this was going to be quite a memorable Wednesday night, for both.

After a round of drinks and light conversation, Teel decided to put his feet in the water and when he got up to leave from the table, their friend April grabbed her camera and told both of them to go and get close to each other so she could take a picture.

Gerkensmeyer came up behind Teel and wrapped his arms around Teel for the picture.

When April said she was ready, Teel reached in his pocket and grabbed a ring.

As Gerkensmeyer was ready for the "picture," Teel held the ring up in front of his face.

Gerkensmeyer paused, then said, "What the #$%& is that?"

Teel replied in a similar tone: "What the #$%& do you think it is?"

Gerkensmeyer paused again, then buried his head into Teel's neck, holding back tears.

Gerkensmeyer held Teel for a minute, saying, "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?"

Teel then grabbed the second ring from his pocket and put it on.

"We walked back to the table amidst applause from all the other patrons. It was sweet to see both gay and straight couples sharing our beautiful moment together, without judgement," Teel said.

Curacao proved to be the perfect setting for two Chicago residents to get engaged. After all, they went to the beautiful, sun-filled island to participate in the 5th annual Curacao Pride – a four-day, rainbow-filled fiesta of all things LGBT.

Teel and Gerkensmeyer were among several representing Chicago at Curacao Pride, which also attracted visitors from Aruba, Canada, the UK, many areas of the U.S., including Miami and New York, and elsewhere.

Teel and Gerkensmeyer left the island on Monday, Oct. 2, on an American Airlines flight for Miami, then to Chicago O'Hare International Airport – and each was wearing beautiful rings made of black ceramic with inlays of Koa wood from Hawaii. They were shipped from Honolulu two weeks before Teel proposed.

"I'd taken six trips prior to this one (to Curacao, but) never for (their) Pride. Josiah traveled with me this past (March to Curacao for my) birthday trip and fell in love with it, so it seemed an appropriate place to ask," him to marry, Teel said.

Gerkensmeyer said Curacao "is an amazing place, very beautiful and one of a kind."

Teel, 47, is a Quotations Lead for Force Partners Chicago. Gerkensmeyer, 33, is a bartender for Shoreline Sightseeing. They have been dating for one year, and live in Chicago's Bowmanville neighborhood.

"Having decided already, even before we met, that I was going to live (in Curacao) by 2020, it was perfect that the person I want to spend the rest of my life with was just as in love with the place as I am," Teel said.

Gerkensmeyer said he "couldn't be happier" getting engaged.

They plan to be married by their friend Marlous Molendijk at Moomba Beach in Curacao two days before the 2018 Curacao Pride kicks off next September.

"Curacao Pride is unlike any Pride celebration I've ever been to. They want everyone to be there and active in all aspects," Gerkensmeyer said.

Teel said he was impressed with how well organized the 2017 Curacao Pride was, and "how pure its message came across, and that it is not as corporate or political as most of the Pride parades in the U.S. have become. This culture is in its infancy as far as LGBTQ issues are concerned, and the number of supporters and people who just think 'Love is Love' (in Curacao) is overwhelming."

Our Pride Is Alive

The 2017 Curacao Pride was a four-day, event-filled love-fest for all corners of the rainbow. Locals mixed with visitors from neighboring islands, particularly from Aruba, along with Americans and a strong contingent from Europe and beyond.

The event once again increased the number of visitors, both locally and internationally, organizers confirmed.

"We are glad that, apart from contributing to the acceptance of LGBT on the island, tourism also boosted during this period," with a large group of return visitors to Curacao Pride, said Jurandy Regina, one of the event organizers and the Sales and Marketing Manager at the Floris Suite Hotel – Spa & Beach Club, which serves as the anchor and host for Curacao Pride.

Regina noted a strong support of allies this year, too.

"Every year we make a lot of progress, but this year broke all records," Regina said.

Curacao Pride kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 28, with a rainbow-soaked Pride Walk and Opening Concert, which drew about 750.

Related: Photos from Curacao Pride 2017

Curacao Pride featured an appearance by Eugene Rhuggenaath, Curacao's Prime Minister, who delivered a heartfelt, emotional, moving speech – and then stuck around to mingle with attendees, take selfies, and more.

On Friday night, Sept. 29, the highlight Curacao Pride event was the Rainbow Lounge XL, held in the lobby of the Floris Suite Hotel – Spa & Beach Club. About 400 attended, celebrating into the wee hours of the morning.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, the LGBT celebrants ventured on, and into, the water for the Navigayion Sea Parade, featuring a well-stocked bar, food, and the sounds of DJ N3NA for the boat trip.

Arguably one of the highlights of Curacao Pride is its Saturday night White Party.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, the Pride Beach Party was a final rainbow event for Curacao Pride.

"The Pride March, in a foreign country holding my fiancé's hand," was truly memorable, Gerkensmeyer said. "The Rainbow Lounge XL on Friday, where we got to meet so many people from other places, (was memorable, too). The Navigation Sea Parade was probably my favorite. The (boat ride) lasted about five hours and took us down the southern coast to a small enclave where they dropped anchor. We were able to swim for about an hour. The fact that it was on a 70-foot catamaran certainly didn't hurt. It was amazing."

Teel added, "I enjoyed every event that they put together for visitors and locals. The beach party, the catamaran cruise and the march itself were all amazing. We met so many cool people and made a ton of new friends."

Margaret Hawthorne, the U.S. Consul General to Curacao, walked and carried the oversize rainbow flag at the Prided Walk. Curacao Pride 2017 also included appearances by Tiffany T. Fantasia (Miami), Shary-An (Netherlands), Mc DiVine (Netherlands), DJ RO-1 (Curacao), DJ Maarten Schakel (Curacao Pride ambassador 2017), DJ Eli (Curacao Pride ambassador 2017), AXL & Friends (Curacao), and DREAMS featuring GiGi and HNLY(Curacao).

Curacao Pride 2017 also featured a Sexual Diversity Movie Night on Sept. 21, which included a showing of LUGARES DE MEDO E ÓDIO (Places of Fear and Hatred) – five stories of violence and prejudice against sexual orientation and gender identity.

And, on Sept. 27, Jeff Guarancino presented, "Let's Make Curacao Equal For All." Guarancino is a writer and a regarded expert in destination marketing and LGBT tourism. He has worked in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, helping transform the image for these destinations for the leisure traveler. His work has been honored with more than 50 hospitality industry awards, and he has written two books on LGBT strategies, insights, challenges, and successes from experts around the world.

The 6th annual Curacao Pride will be held Sept. 27-30, 2018. Organizers said many of the popular past elements will be brought back, along with new ideas, events.

Curacao is "an amazing, open and beautiful paradise," Gerkensmeyer said. "The food, drink and culture there is like no other from the moment you step off the plane. You can most certainly feel the island way of life."

Teel added, "If anyone wants to go to a destination where they can leave everything behind and not feel the pressure of everyday life, Curacao is the place to do it. You will actually come back relaxed, without that need to unwind after a vacation before you can get back into the grind.

"This has been, by far, my most enjoyable trip to Curacao. Being able to ask the love of my life, the one person I've been waiting so long for, to marry me on the island we will eventually live on, was amazing. We have so much to plan now with the wedding a year away, but I already know it will be spectacular. I met so many wonderful people on this trip that I cannot wait to be considered one of the locals, so I can show other people how truly beautiful Curacao is."

For More Information

Website: www.curacaopride.com

Email: info@curacaopride.com

Facebook: /CuracaoPride

Twitter: @curacaopride

Instagram: @curacaopride

Floris Suite Hotel – Spa & Beach Club: www.florissuitehotel.com