Eyes on us: Eric Skains and St. Pete Pride bid to bring World Pride to Tampa Bay in 2022

By : Jeremy Williams
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Florida’s largest Pride celebration is back and turning the volume up for the world to hear as it takes over the streets of the Grand Central District June 24-26.

While St. Pete Pride will be pulling off another celebration on the gulf coast, they will also have their eyes on 2022. The year will mark the 20th anniversary of St. Pete Pride and is the year they are bidding on World Pride.

“We’ll be finalizing our bid as soon as this Pride is over with,” St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains says. “We’ll be finalizing what the bid will look like and sending it over. So it will be in by 2017 for the host [city] of 2022 World Pride.”

So while no formal bids have been submitted, three cities have sent letters of interest to host; St. Petersburg, Copenhagen and Las Vegas.

If chosen, St. Petersburg would become only the seventh city to host WorldPride, and only the second in the United States. The first WorldPride in the U.S. will be in New York City in 2019 held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

While no one from InterPride, the organization behind WorldPride, will be in attendance this year in any formal capacity, that doesn’t mean they won’t be paying attention.

“We all travel and see each other’s Prides, so a lot of them know what St.Pete’s Pride looks like and will have,” Skains says. “But if and when we get it, [St. Pete’s World Pride] won’t look like anything we currently do.”

The details are scarce at this point, and nothing will be finalized until the official bid is completed, but Skains has an idea of what St. Pete Pride would like it to be.

“So we know these events will all take place during this WorldPride span of what we’re looking at now to be about a 14-day span in June in 2022,” he says.

Skains hopes to make WorldPride more of a collection of events than just one set event.

“We’ve been talking with TIGLFF and Scott [Skyberg] about having a film festival during World Pride,” Skains says. “We also want to reach out to the Suncoast Softball League about doing a softball tournament during Pride that year as well.”

St. Pete Pride has also spoken with several museums in the area about featuring LGBT exhibits and reached out to organizations in the Bay area about hosting several events.

“When people come here for WorldPride, we want them to see more than just the Pride events, we want them to see the whole city,” Skains says. “There are a lot of attractions and organizations that do events throughout the year that people visiting for Pride may not usually get to see, and this is an opportunity to showcase some of that for them.”

Along with showcasing the Tampa Bay area, St. Pete Pride will be organizing the bid based on the specifications set by WorldPride.

“In order to do WorldPride, we have to meet certain criteria. USF St.Pete is doing a series of seminars that we hope will continue. A part of it is having some type of conference aspect to the event, so we’ll be looking at doing that. And we would love to partner USF St.Pete, should the success of what they’re doing now with their seminars work out for them as much as we hope it does,” Skains says. “Then there are a lot of aspects to the event that we already do. There has to be a gala, there has to be a parade, there has to be a finale event and there has to be a kickoff event. A lot of these things we already do. We just want to expand upon those and make them much bigger and grander than what they already are.”

St. Petersburg hosting WorldPride would likely draw larger crowds for what is already the largest Pride celebration in Florida.

“We saw when they did it in Jerusalem in 2006, I believe, a spike of about a quarter of a million people and then in Toronto, in 2014, you see a spike of about a half a million people,” Skains says. “So we’re kind of playing with those numbers over two weeks – that’s not all at one time. We’re obviously not going to fit all those people at one time; that’s over a two-week period of combined attendance. So we’re looking at an increase, we would like to see 200,000-250,000 people on the minimum side, and that’s just people coming into town. That’s on top people who live here and will be visiting events.”

Those kinds of numbers most likely wouldn’t continue on through the years after the WorldPride events, but Skains hopes what will continue is the legacy of what they put together.

“When we bring everything together, if we bring the film festival and we bring in some kind of sporting event, we hope to continue that on after WorldPride. We don’t want to just do it as a one-time thing and then we are done. We want the people who attend every year to benefit from it,” Skains says.

Being a part of an elite group of cities who host WorldPride would not only boost the visibility of St. Pete Pride but also the view of the city as a whole.

“I think it’s going to be something that gets the city, and the area, recognized,” Skains says. “We literally travel the world promoting Pride; we are out there and we are bringing people in, telling them come here to St. Petersburg and see us, and it’s more than just sending magazines to people.

“We have a presence in no less than six international Prides, and one of the biggest questions we get when we travel to these Prides, or even some of the Prides across the U.S., people ask us ‘Does St. Petersburg, Russia really have a Pride?’ So that is one of the biggest things we try and address is how we differentiate ourselves on the map and I think that this will really help people see this area the way we who live here see it.”

ST. PETE PRIDE GRAND MARSHALS

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Miguel Fuller, host of the Hot 101.5 morning radio show The Miguel Show

Miguel Fuller has known, even as a young child, who he really was inside, and he wasn’t going to let anyone tell him any different. Locking himself away in his room, Fuller knew he was destined to be on the radio.

“When I was in elementary school, I used to lock myself in the bedroom and I would record little cassette tapes of The Miguel Show,” Fuller says. “It was sort of Jerry Springer-esque . Like I would be the announcer, the host, the guest, the audience. I would just film these episodic things on tape back when I was younger, and so I always had a fascination with the audio medium.”

That fascination led him to pursue a life on the radio, which brought him to the Tampa Bay area a little more than a year ago to become the host of his own morning radio show named The Miguel Show.

Every weekday morning, Fuller and co-host Holly O’Connor talk about everything from pop culture to guilty pleasures to their personal lives, being as open and authentic with the audience as they are with each other. The Will & Grace persona they have on the radio comes from a nearly 10-year friendship that has had them seeing each other through marriages, pregnancies and boyfriends.

“I have friends who have been in radio for a lot longer than I have, and they talk about how they use to have to change the pronouns of their partners when they were on the air, and when people would see them out in public they would have to walk away. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that,” Fuller says.

The ability to be out and proud – not only with people at work, but with his audience, too – has given Fuller a large voice in Tampa Bay that has gotten him recognized by the community, and St. Pete Pride.

“To me [being named a grand marshal] feels like a pat on the back for being true to myself and for always being sort of a voice for the gay community without trying to be a spokesperson. I always say this whenever I talk on the radio: I never want to be the spokesperson, because I can’t speak for everyone, I don’t have that authority to, if anyone does. But all I can do is speak from my heart and my experience,” Fuller says.

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Anastasia “Annie” Hiotis, COO of Carton Fields Law Firm

When you have a large organization like Equality Florida, with all its people and parts moving so efficiently together, it can sometimes be difficult to pick out one piece of the machine to recognize their accomplishments. The fact that the community was able to single out Anastasia Hiotis, known by Annie to her friends, speaks to the hard work and dedication she has in the fight for LGBT equality.

As the chief operating officer of Carlton Fields, a national law firm based in Tampa, Hiotis has championed for equal rights mainly by being open with whom she is at work.

“When I came out at work, I realized that I had been hardwired not to talk about being gay my entire professional career, because I never wanted it to interfere with my professional development,” Hiotis says. “In the mid-2000’s I just said ‘There’s something more that I need to be doing, and I think I can help people if I come out at work, which I did, and at Carlton Fields, I never thought I’d be able to do it. But it was such a liberating experience, and everybody at the firm was just totally fine with it.”

Shortly after coming out at work, Hiotis began to work with Equality Florida.

“I wanted to help affect some change,” Hiotis says. “[Equality Florida’s Executive Director]Nadine Smith reached out to me at the time and said it was having trouble getting Pinellas county LGBT people involved in Equality Florida, and didn’t know why because it’s our home base. So that’s when I got involved, and I think I brought people that hadn’t been involved in Equality Florida up to that point into the process, and it’s just grown year after year and it’s just been a great experience.”

Equality Florida helped expose Hiotis to a different group of people than she had never met before. Ed Lally, Equality Florida’s Tampa Bay development officer served as a great mentor for her.

“He’s like Mr. Professional Fundraiser, so I sort of cut my teeth with him in the process, and it’s just been a lot of fun getting people to recognize what the mission of Equality Florida has been and getting them involved in the process,” Hiotis says.

Even with all the work Hiotis has done in the community, being selected as one of St. Pete Pride’s grand marshals still came as a surprise.

“It’s so humbling to be recognized,” she says. “There are so many people that do so much, and for them to recognize me means a lot to me personally. I just don’t know how else to say it, it’s just the most humbling thing that I’ve ever experienced, and I’m certainly grateful and honored.”

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Lucas Wehle, Trans and Youth Program Coordinator for Metro Wellness and Community Centers

At 23 years of age, Lucas Wehle is the youngest person selected to be a grand marshal for St. Pete Pride, and as a transgender male, this year may be the most important year for him to be recognized.

As of the end of May, 13 transgender women have been murdered in the U.S., and the national spotlight has been on the issue of what public restrooms transgender people should be allowed to use.

“People need to get educated,” Wehle says. “We need many stories and many experiences to be shared to educate other people and to enlighten them. That’s the first step.”

Wehle knows a little bit about transgender education. Since graduating from the University of South Florida in 2015, Wehle has been the Trans and Youth Coordinator for Metro Wellness and Community Centers.

“So they created the position here for me to work with trans programs because that was my expertise and my biggest passion,” Wehle says. “They also expanded youth programs since my education was in that field so I was experienced in that. So a lot of what I do is I mentor trans youth and do programs that primarily have trans youth in them.”

Wehle grew up in conservative Plant City, and first came out as a lesbian in high school before realizing that he was actually transgender.

“I was super involved in church, and when I came out I just got that all pulled out from underneath me and I wasn’t allowed to go to that church anymore, I was literally told that I couldn’t come around, and I did everything in that church, you know, and all those people were my family. And my immediate family did not accept me either,” Wehle says.

Wehle came out as trans five years ago when he was a sophomore at USF and got involved in P.R.I.D.E. Alliance and the Trans+ Student Union. His activism in LGBT rights, specifically trans youth, led him to be one of the most valuable assets at Metro and led him to be selected as a grand marshal at this year’s parade.

“I’m anxious; I’m nervous. I don’t really like eyes on me. I don’t really like too much attention,” Wehle says. “But I’m not going to undermine that by any means. I’m very excited. I’ve decided this is my day, you know? I’m super young; I’m not going to have an experience like this ever again in my life.”

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ST. PETE PRIDE’S 2016 SCHEDULE
MFA Stonewall Reception
Wednesday, June 22, 6:00- 9:00 P.M.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Stonewall Reception began as a few friends coming together to enjoy the arts during the week of St. Pete Pride, but now it has become the best way to launch you into a Pride state of mind. So get dressed up and come be fancy at the Museum of Fine Arts. Enjoy open premium bar and light hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $30.

Pride in Fashion
Thursday, June 23, 6:30- 8:30 P.M.
Tyrone Square Mall
Join Macy’s at the Tyrone Square Mall as they show you the hottest fashions for the summer and fill you in on what everyone will be wearing this Pride season. Come out and enjoy the live music, fashion show and refreshments.

Rooftop Party, presented by Hotel Zamora
Thursday, June 23, 8:00- 10:00 P.M.
Hotel Zamora’s Castile Rooftop Bar
After getting your fashionista groove on at the Tyrone Square Mall, get to the Castile Bar on Hotel Zamora’s rooftop on St. Pete Beach for the Pride Kickoff Party. You’ll feel like Joan Collins on the set of Dynasty as you peer off into the beautiful gulf; waves crashing, the stars shining and the sea breeze blowing through your hair. This is a free event, so come enjoy the live entertainment and Cabana Boy cocktails you divas you.

SP2 Concert featuring Deborah Cox
Friday, June 24, 7:00- 11:00 P.M.
26th Street and Central Avenue
What’s better than a nighttime street concert in the world’s greatest city? A concert that will also help the community. Proceeds will benefit the St. Pete Pride Community Grants Program, meaning every cent raised will go to Tampa Bay area non-profit groups that are helping build up the community. So get those dancing shoes on and grab your beau or gal (or both) and see local legends DJ L-Mo, Karmic Tattoo and Jennifer Real entertain before Deborah Cox takes the stage for a sizzling hot concert. General admission is free, but since this is a charity concert, make a donation if you can. A Pit Pass for $20 will put you up front at the stage.

St. Pete Pride 5K
Saturday, June 25, 7:30- 11:00 A.M.
City of Gulfport
Have you ever been to a Pride event and thought, “This is amazing, but what I could really use is an early morning run?” If so, we say, REALLY? But then we say, “Good for you!” For those who fall into that category, St. Pete Pride will have the annual Pride 5K in Gulfport. The race will be followed by a Finish Line Party featuring live entertainment and top-performer awards. Entrance fee is $25.

Pride Parade
Saturday, June 25, 5:00- 11:00 P.M.
Grand Central District
This is the big daddy of the week, the St. Pete Pride Parade. The block party will kickoff at 5:00 p.m. with the parade starting at sunset. This nighttime parade will feature more than 150 organizations with over 4,500 marchers all dolled up in lights and floats, tossing beads to the spectators in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood and Grand Central District. The parade route will stay the same as in years past starting in the lot next the Metro and travelling down Central Ave from 30th Street to 22nd Street. For premium viewing, check into getting a Glamstand seat in front of Bandit Coffee Company starting at $40.

Pride Festival
Sunday, June 26, 11:00 A.M.- 6:00 P.M.
Grand Central District
After last year’s epic run, the festival length is expanding another block and will now feature over 350 exhibitors on both sides of Central Avenue, reaching from 27th Street down to 22nd Street. And believe us y’all, this festival has everything: food, drinks, clothes, souvenirs, organizations and churches passing out information, adult stuff, legal advice – the list goes on and on. Come out and mingle with the community and celebrate your Pride.

St. Pete Pride has many other events going on to celebrate Pride throughout the month of June, including sports events, pool parties, after parties and more. You can find a full list of the events at StPetePride.com/2016EventListing.

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