Grassroots support continues to fuel Tampa Pride

By : Greg Stemm
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Tampa – Tampa Pride president Carrie West has taken to calling the volunteers, businesses, organizations and government officials who are helping to produce the inaugural event his “grassroots brigade.” The new parade and street festival are scheduled for Saturday, March 28, in historic Ybor City.

West said Tampa Pride has about 200 signed up to volunteer at the event but needs about 100 more to make it happen. But he’s encouraged by the show of support.

“I showed up at the last meeting expecting a couple of dozen people and there were so many that it was standing room only,” he said. “I asked for a show of hands of those who were there and ready to volunteer and those who were just there for information. Almost everyone put their hand up to help. It was very uplifting.”

Because of the timing of the event during the traditional spring break, West said his volunteers are sending promotional information to those colleges and universities with the hope that LGBT college students will see a great opportunity to not only get some sun and surf, but also attend a Pride celebration as well. He also noted that there is a statewide Thespian conference going on in Tampa that weekend that has already booked about 6,800 rooms.

“Theatrical and artsy people? Hello…..that means of lots of gay people too!” said West. Several local hotels are offering Pride discounts and the Marriott WestShore will even have a shuttle to the event. West said Tampa Pride’s board has reached out to the Pinellas County Convention and Visitors Bureaus so that those staying on the beach know about the nearby festivities.

So far, fundraising is going fairly well, West added, before saying that the board is anxiously awaiting payments from businesses who signed letters of intent in December.

The organization’s financial goal is to raise $128,000. He said at this point, through firm commitments and funds, Tampa Pride has in excess of $70,000. That’s enough to cover early expenses from the city.

Recently, the city of Tampa pledged $35,000 in in-kind services. It was touch and go with the city because of a 2009 moratorium on new events. But West met personally with mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has been a consistent ally to the LGBT community, and convinced him that the new Pride event was good for area business and for Tampa’s image as it competes for economic development among Fortune 500 companies.

In fact, West mentions business and economic development over and over again.

“Tampa needs to be seen as a progressive big city that is diverse and welcoming to LGBT people,” said West. “The unfortunate years when we had a ban on gay pride events from the county commission was a real stain on our reputation. We need to show that we’ve changed and are ready to compete in attracting businesses to our area.

“Today’s companies want to locate in an area that is welcoming to all its employees.”

Things really have changed. West says that in addition to a Proclamation from the city of Tampa, organizers plan to have a proclamation from the Hillsborough County Commission, the government body that refused to support any type of LGBT Pride just a few short years ago. West also expects support from elected leaders, both local and statewide. The board has even sent a request of support to President Barack Obama.

With new management at the Flamingo Resort and a For Sale sign outside of Georgie’s Alibi, West admits that support from the bars on the Pinellas side of the bay hasn’t been great.

“But we do have a fundraiser coming up at Quench in Largo,” said West. He said there has been greater support among Tampa based establishments. He points to City Side which as raised nearly $3,000 in the sale of Tampa Pride buttons. On Feb. 25, City Side will host Watermark Wednesday at 6 p.m., which will raise more funds for Tampa Pride.

West said the city calls Pride a “controlled” event, meaning that there is a cap to the number of participants in both the parade and in the street festival. He said the limit is 100 entries in each event.

So far, 40 units have registered for the parade. The street festival, however, is filling up more quickly. Nearly 75% of the spaces are already spoken for.
West said he was particularly excited about the 10 different city vehicles—from fire trucks to police cruisers—that will be in the parade. He says the collection of vehicles will represent the diversity of Tampa’s city government.

Entertainment for the weekend is still coming together, West explained. Originally, a big name headliner was in the works, but based on feedback from other Pride organizations, Tampa Pride learned that big name headliners don’t necessarily mean larger crowds that can support the artist’s fees.

West noted, however, that there will be great local entertainment on hand, including Una Voce, Crescendo and others. He also expects such as Una Voce and Crescendo and other favorite local groups. Nationally recognized female impersonators are also expected and a soon-to-be-named local female impersonator will serve as emcee.

Plans are underway for two top name local personalities to serve as grand marshals of the parade. West said Pride hopes to honor both a man and woman who have made significant contributions to equality in our area. The grand marshals will be named at an event on Feb. 23 at Christino’s in Ybor City at 6 p.m.

At a time when Pride celebrations have peppered every corner of Florida and neighboring St. Pete Pride has a reputation as the largest in the southwest, West was asked why another Pride was needed in Tampa Bay.

“Why not?” he asked. “We have pride celebrations in Lakeland, Pasco County, north Pinellas County and Bradenton now. It’s time that Tampa had its own celebration. Plus with us in the spring, St. Pete Pride in the summer and Come Out with Pride in Orlando in October, we are quickly making sure there is a Pride celebration during every season of the year and all along the politically important I-4 corridor.”

Organizers hope for an inaugural Tampa Pride that is comparable to the first St. Pete Pride held in 2003, where nearly 12,000 attended.

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