St. Pete Pride announces big plans for 2015

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg – As with tradition, many take the opportunity of a new year to reinvent themselves, whether through resolutions, makeovers or new attitudes. St. Pete Pride is taking the dawn of 2015 to do all of those things, and it promises to be a year of change and growth for the 14-year-old organization.

“Every year that we host our event we want it to be bigger and better,” said Scion Provenzano, president of the St. Pete Pride Board. “Sometimes it’s hard to outdo ourselves but it’s always a challenge we like to put up.”

This year marks the beginning of Provenzano’s first term as president, but she has been a volunteer for more than three years. Her election last fall makes her the first heterosexual person to hold a top leadership position in St. Pete Pride.

“I know it’s very concerning for some to have a straight person running this,” Provenzano said. “I know there is a stigma having someone support you who is not one of your own. But I think the people who know me and know my involvement know I’m here for the right reason; and I’m going to help and support and do what I can.”

Provenzano is confident that those who feel its awkward to have a heterosexual person running the state’s largest LGBT Pride event will give her a chance to prove herself before dismissing her in the new role. She said she worked closely with outgoing board president Aaron Horcha last year, and took what he taught her to heart.

“I learned a lot from him and I’ve been to Interpride conferences,” Provenzano said. “I have learned a lot from the experiences I’ve had with St. Pete Pride. I’m also involved with the Pride group at my work, so I’m exposed to a lot of facets and what we’re doing will be the best for St. Pete Pride.”

Eric Skains, executive director of St. Pete Pride, said he’s excited about Provenzano’s leadership and the new board.

“For the two years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the passion in our board for St Pete Pride to be more than just an event,” Skains said. “Many told us that it was a dream, a mirage of sorts, merely because Pride has never done any of it. But all of this is changing. We have a group of people who want to continue the passion that we’ve shared, leadership who has the desire to make real change for the organization and community, and an overall attitude that is upbeat and proactive.”

That means 2015 will be a very big year for St. Pete Pride. Provenzano said the popular nighttime parade will return on June 27 and the street festival will once again be held the following day, June 28, on Central Avenue.

But there are other events in the works. Provenzano hinted at an art show and a 5K for that same weekend.

“Not everyone may want to attend a parade,” she said. “But they may want to do an early morning 5K to show their support for the LGBT community. We want people to have options.”

Skains was hesitant to offer too many details on a 5K, since it is still in the early planning stage. He also said many details will be released at Pride’s annual Pride kick-off party in April.

“Nothing set in stone as of yet,” he said. “I can say we are for sure moving forward with a new addition to the Street Festival: The St Pete LGBTQ Art Festival. This will be a new aspect of our event in which we hope to bring together artists from all over Tampa Bay. St Pete is known for its arts districts, so it makes sense to add this. Right now we have room for roughly 50 individual artists and hope this expands to a whole new event to be included in Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ Pride Celebration.”

That art festival will, run alongside the annual street festival, he said, and artists can buy a 10×10 space for just $50. There will be several categories of artists, from mixed media and 3D pieces to metal and wood displays. Artists can register at StPetePride.com.

The kick-off party Skains mentioned will also reveal the 2015 grand marshals, which Provenzano said will again be picked by the community.

The Pride board will nominate several organizations, and a male-identified and female-identified individual again this year. The community can vote for whomever they would like to see as grand marshal in 2015 once the nominations are up at StPetePride.com.

“What a great way to get people involved than having them vote and having them elect people,” Provenzano said. “It seemed to have worked really well and we’ve received great feedback so it’s something we’ll continue to do.”

That feedback is important to St. Pete Pride’s ongoing success, Skains agrees, adding that the organization will be more proactive in 2015 in soliciting the opinions of the local LGBT community.

“We’ll be holding quarterly focus group-type meetings where we’ll toss out ideas to get feedback, as well as hear from the community on what they’d like to see as part of their event,” Skains said. “We get tons of the ‘why don’t you’ emails, and now we’re making them all public in order to create more dialog on building a successful celebration.”

Not everyone embraces change, but both Provenzano and Skains hope the community will work with St. Pete Pride as it evolves this year. Skains is quick to point out that the changes coming in 2015 aren’t just changes made on a whim—they’ve been in the works for quite some time.

“This has been an ongoing endeavor,” he said. “It started with our Community Grants Program (a program that has awarded over $50,000 the past two years) that has more than doubled the annual ‘give back’ to the local community. This ‘rethinking’ has been continued with a more community driven attitude in making the event, from the grand marshal selection to the rebranding of our identity. And now, we’ll begin to focus on our outreach programs, which is why I’m excited with the additional new board members and board leadership as they’re the perfect fit to make this possible.”

The community of Tampa Bay is a big one and covers seven counties. Provenzano said that the community grants program reaches out to all of those counties throughout the year.

“Our grants are paid out according to how much money we’ve raised,” she explained. “So more money means we can give more back to the community.”

St. Pete Pride’s annual festival will return to the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg June 26-28, but its next big event will be held well before then. A Taste of Pride will return to the Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg on March 21.

To learn more about St. Pete Pride or to purchase tickets to Taste of Pride, visit StPetePride.com.

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