A night parade and separate street festival bring global message to St. Petersburg

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg – If you think you know St. Pete Pride, you don’t. The 12th inception of the annual LGBT Pride event has a new look, a new feel and a new schedule in 2014.

While St. Pete Pride continues to honor the anniversary of the New York Stonewall Riots that started it all in 1969 the last weekend of the month—June 27-29—that’s all that remains the same as in years’ past.
The biggest, most notable change is the night parade, which follows the same route as previous years but begins at dusk on Saturday June 28. The annual Street Festival will be on Central Avenue the following day, Sunday, June 29, from 11a.m-6 p.m. Both events celebrate a theme of “Global Equality.”

“Parade attendance had gotten so large that it became unsafe for exhibitors and spectators,” says Eric Skains, who is in his second year as St. Pete Pride’s executive director. “Separating the two also gives us the opportunity to grow more attendance as far as out-of-town guests are concerned. Festival vendors will also be able to interact more with visitors and not have to combat the parade traffic.”

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Krisman—who is the first-ever mayor to fully embrace St. Pete Pride—approves of the schedule change.

“The parade has grown as the festival has grown and it got to the point where it was difficult for the two to co-exist,” says Kriseman. Kriseman, who won his election last November, is a former city council member who signed the first-ever proclamation for St. Pete Pride in 2003. “The whole event has grown organically and it reached the point where the entities needed to be separated. I give a lot of credit to the organizers for recognizing that.”

Kriseman plans to march in the parade and on June 12, he signed a proclamation deeming June St. Pete Pride month in St. Petersburg.

All eight members of the city council also signed a proclamation recognizing the event, which pumps more than $10 million into the local economy.

Mayoral support
Kriseman’s participation this year is a milestone for St. Pete Pride. When the festival began in 2003, then-mayor Rick Baker wouldn’t even acknowledge the organization existed. When former mayor Bill Foster was elected in 2009, things improved slightly, but Foster refused to participate in the parade and only signed a proclamation after negative publicity and a grand marshal pestered him to do so.

In 2013, Kriseman was running for mayor and participated in the parade, complete with a rainbow-colored campaign banner.

“I love that banner,” Kriseman says. “I’m not going to say who said this to me, but someone told me that I needed to tone down my support for the gay and lesbian community if I was going to run for mayor. Told me it would kill my campaign if I don’t ease up. Obviously, I didn’t listen.”

Kriseman credits last year’s St. Pete Pride Parade with his eventual win, actually, saying it gave him more confidence and added momentum to his campaign.

This year, as mayor, he’ll be the first Mayor of St. Petersburg with an active role in the parade. He has even invited city employees, police and fire personnel to march with him. Kriseman isn’t, however, the first mayor in Tampa Bay to march.

In 2013, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn walked the route. Kriseman says he would welcome Tampa’s mayor back to the grand central district this year.

“Mayor Buckhorn and I have been friends for a long time and we share a lot of the same values,” Kriseman says. “Of course I welcome him back and I think it’s nice that the mayor of St. Pete will be walking this year. Last year, the almost-mayor—the not-yet mayor—participated. Bob’s participation shows solidarity with the community.”

Kriseman adds that Buckhorn has invited him to take part in the Gasparilla Parade which happens along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa each January.

“I don’t have plans to do that,” Kriseman laughs. “They can keep Gasparilla. It’s crazy!”

A community’s decision
For the second year in a row, St. Pete Pride asked the community to choose its grand marshals. And online voting nearly doubled compared to the inaugural year, according to Skains.

One male representative, one female representative and one group organization were selected for the 2014 honor. Grand marshals are City Council member Darden Rice, AIDS Service Association of Pinellas resource development manager Jay Aller and PFLAG Tampa.

They were officially named grand marshals at a Pride kick-off event in May and all of the grand marshals are familiar with St. Pete Pride and have participated in one way or another.

“This will be our third awesome year marching as PFLAG Tampa in St. Pete Pride,” explains John Desmond, who restarted the organization four years ago with his wife, Nancy. “At our booth one year, I looked up to see a youthwho had been attending PFLAG meetings with only his mother because his father did not accept him, He motioned to me not to say a word and drew my attention to the man with him. In the man’s hand was one of the PFLAG buttons from our booth. It said, ‘I Love My Gay Son.’ Dad made a donation for the button, and the two of them walked off, leaving us to wonder what miracle had occurred to turn this dad around. And beyond that, we felt so honored that he wanted to include us in that joy without having to say a word.”

Rice, who won her position on the city council in November, has participated in Pride with different groups. Last year as she walked in the parade as a candidate, she invited her nephew, who recently came out, to join her.

“He had just come out to the family and this was a chance to show him a supportive, welcoming community,” Rice says. “I would hear him on the phone talking about it excitedly to his friends back in Asheville, N.C. It was a big deal to him and that made Pride more special for me.”

Aller, who was at the very first organization meeting for Pride back in 2002, has attended every festival. This year’s theme of “Global Equality” excites him.

“It speaks not just to the literal world, but global as in equality for all right here in our community,” Aller says. “I hope that those in the parade use the them to decorate their floats and advance the mission so many of us are working towards.”

A continuing tradition
In 2003, approximately 10,000 people attended the inaugural St. Pete Pride parade and street festival. Last year, its 11th anniversary, estimates put the crowd at nearly 125,000. Skains expects a similar, if not larger crowd, the night of the parade.

“We could reach 130,000,” Skains says. “But it’s hard to say exactly since this is the first time we’ve done a night parade.”

He adds that he’s uncertain how separating the parade from the festival will impact the festival itself, but he’s hopeful people will come out on Sunday, June 29, to visit vendors and enjoy the lineup of entertainers taking the stage.

“We are truly a destination Pride and we want to encourage everyone to enjoy the entire weekend of festivities, from the pre-Pride 27/82 concert on June 27 to the parade on June 28 and the festival on June 29,” Skains says. “This is a real chance for us to showcase and celebrate the diversity of St. Petersburg.”

More Info:
Friday, June 27
7 p.m.: 27/82 Concert at the State Theatre, 687 Central Ave.

Saturday, June 28
5 p.m.: Kenwood Neighborhood Block Party
Dusk: St. Pete Pride parade, beginning at Georgie’s Alibi and continuing down Central Ave.

Sunday, June 29
11 a.m.-6 p.m.: St. Pete Pride Street Festival, Central Avenue between 22nd and 28th Streets


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