As St. Petersburg celebrates Coming Out and LGBTQ film, a new Pride emerges

By : Samuel Johnson
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Two Bay Area LGBTQ festivals are joining forces this October. The Tampa-based Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is collaborating with the nascent St. Petersburg Come OUT St. Pete. The former has been a staple on the LGBTQ calendar for 28 years; and the latter is in its first year. Although 2017 marks the COSP inauguration, the apex of the celebration falls on Oct. 11: National Coming Out Day which honors the anniversary celebration of the National March on Washington D.C. for Lesbian and Gay Rights 29 years ago. For those of you wondering what gift is appropriate for each anniversary, here is the traditional gift suggestion: Orchids for 28 years and furniture for 29 years.

The partnership between the established TIGLFF and the newborn COSP is rooted in a palette of shared core values: celebration, reflection and education. But most of all it’s a good fit for the twin cities on the Bay.

Connecting COSP with TIGLFF this year seemed almost serendipitous. National Coming Out Day, and by extension COSP, falls smack in the middle of TIGLFF’s film screening events. This was the sentiment of Shawn Connelly, primary chairperson of the COSP Organization Committee. COSP launches their events early with Come OUT St. Pete Art Exhibit & Contest on Sept. 15 at the Empath Partners In Care facility in St. Petersburg. The month leading up to COSP has a series of activities before the start of the main COSP events, which run from Oct. 11-15.

St. Petersburg already has a robust LGBTQ festival in place with St. Pete Pride. However, Brian Longstreth, Grand Central District Board member and Committee member of COSP, is confident that there is enough room and for another LGBTQ festival.

“It’s the right time and right place for a new [LGBTQ] event in St. Petersburg,” says Longstreth. This is especially true for the Grand Central District. COSP emerged out of the Grand Central District Association, and is an organizing committee within that association. St. Pete Pride in 2017 moved the Pride parade out of this historic area to relocate downtown.

The Grand Central District, so named because of Central Avenue, is home to numerous LGBTQ owned, operated and patronized businesses. Longstreth underscored the area’s ties to the LGBTQ community: “A lot of people just think about the bars and restaurants; but there’s CPAs, attorneys, home decor, antique shops and all kinds of professional services. At last count we’re at 80 LGBTQ owned or managed businesses in the district.” COSP looks to bring awareness to these businesses in the Grand Central District.

Pride has been a boon for St. Petersburg over the years. The Grand Central District has been at the heart of that economic infusion. However, Longstreth maintains that Pride has evolved over the years; attracting more and more out-of-towners. He doesn’t give a nominal “good versus bad” grade to the change, but he does see a niche that COSP can fill.

“We wanted to do something that’s more community based, a little more local,” Longstreth says.

Connelly echoed the sentiment that the conception of COSP is intrinsically different than Pride. He points out that St. Pete Pride started as a local event, but has mushroomed into something that has national and international allure. COSP is going back to those roots of a more locally focused ethos.

According to Connelly, COSP is striving for total inclusion. A barbecue, a family picnic, an art walk, shuffleboard, even a beach party, pub crawl and T-dance will be part of the festival. Longstreth sees a diverse schedule of events as well as a celebration march, school and university outreach, and an elder event as typifying the inclusion by representing the makeup of the local community.

The real nexus of the alliance between COSP and TIGLFF is film. At the intersection of both festivals there will be a few films shown during COSP as part of TIGLFF. One of the COSP sponsored films will play on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, at Empath Partners in Care. The film, After Louie starring Alan Cumming, is also sponsored by EPIC and Punky’s Bar and Grill.

Scott Skyberg, executive director of TIGLFF, stated through collaboration with the St. Petersburg Preservation, TIGLFF was able to select a film that would not be alienating nor overtly provocative to passers-by. Since the viewing will be outdoors, they feel there needs to be a sense of civic neutrality. Skyberg pointed out that this was part of the balancing act. TIGLFF didn’t want to obscure the synchronicity of what the appropriate film for COSP should be.

“We want the film to address the object of equality and remind viewers that LGBT has been around for many years, even in the film industry,” Skyberg says. “It’s depicted LGBT community members on the big screen. It is OK. It is natural. It is a part of everyday life.”

TIGLFF already has several films scheduled to show in St. Petersburg during their festival. By adding a screening with COSP, it was a great way for TIGLFF to show support for the new event. Moreover, said Skyberg, TIGLFF often slates films that help people self-identify or even find the confidence to come out in regards to who they are, wherever they are in the LGBTQ matrix. This is a culmination of ingredients making it a natural progression to a partnership with COSP.

So far the implementation of the planning phases seems to be on schedule and going off without a hitch. Connelly points out one of the biggest challenges for COSP has been getting the word out and creating a buzz about the festival. Connelly and Longstreth agree there is more a sense of opportunity with the inauguration of COSP than any specific burdening obstacle. However, Connelly acknowledges that money and time are the challenges that every festival has to grapple with.

Neither TIGLFF nor COSP will have to launch a campaign to curry favor with city government officials in order to stage the events. Longstreth illustrates this by highlighting the diverse and welcoming nature of St. Petersburg, as well as noting the sitting city council has three members who are out. Councilmember of District 5, Steve Kornell, is one of the three.

Kornell sees the upcoming COSP as a way to “celebrate the progress but also remember that we still have a way to go. And that for everybody the progress has been uneven and there are people who have been left out of the progress.”

Visit TIGLFF.com and ComeOutStPete.org for more information. TIGLFF runs Oct. 6-14 and COSP will be Oct. 7-15.

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