St. Pete Pride 2013 lures approximately 125,000 to Central Avenue

By : Steve Blanchard and Susan Clary
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Heavy rains and rumbles of thunder couldn’t dampen spirits at St. Pete Pride June 29. The 11th annual promenade and street festival brought in an estimated 125,000 people to the city’s Grand Central District, marking it as the largest festival in the city’s history and securing its status as the largest LGBT Pride event in the state.

“It’s just a little rain,” said Bennett King, who attended the festival with his boyfriend and a group of friends. “As long as the lightning stays away, I plan on being here all day long. At least it’s not hot like it has been in the past.

With temperatures staying comfortably in the mid-80s-and the 70s during the worst part of the rain-festival-goers got a reprieve from the often scorching temperatures that often accompany St. Pete Pride.

“I think I prefer this,” said Jackolynn Maurice, who drove from Fort Myers to take part in the festival. “Sure, everything is wet, but it’s the most comfortable St. Pete Pride I’ve ever attended!”

The surge of participants exceeded 2012’s estimated 100,000 attendees, and St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains credits the festival’s popularity and, especially, recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court eliminating part of the Defense of Marriage Act and allowing Californians to resume same-sex marriages.

“We should change the motto to: ‘For liberty, justice and equality for all’ after those decisions,” Skains said. “We always have reason to celebrate who we are, but this year is extremely special for our community, and people recognized that and are out in force.”

SPP2013Cap1The rains began lightly early in the morning before skies cleared enough for the promenade to launch from the Metro Wellness and Community Center parking lot. Within a half hour, however, the first round of heavy storms struck, soaking parade units and forcing many along the parade route to seek shelter under awnings and in businesses. But once that round of storms passed, people immediately flooded Central Avenue, almost creating a gridlock of friends, families and happy reunions.

“I only see her once a year, and it’s always at St. Pete Pride,” said Sarasota resident Lindsay North, who had an arm wrapped around Charlotte Dexter of Tampa. “Life gets so busy throughout the year that you sometimes forget how important people are to you. I knew I’d see her here and we’ve promised to do better at staying in touch.”

As with every year, there were a handful of protestors attending St. Pete Pride, but the numbers have seemingly dwindled from year to year. The few protestors carried signs with Bible verses condemning homosexuality but mostly remained quietly on the sidelines of Central Avenue.

St. Petersburg police did not report any altercations or arrests during St. Pete Pride 2013.

Everybody’s mayor
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn stepped out of the car at the Metro Wellness and Community Center, staging area for the St. Pete Pride Promenade, ahead of the downpour that would drench him as he later walked the parade route.
Nearly 25 miles from the hub of his constituency, people approached him for a handshake, a hug or a photograph. He kindly obliged every request.

“For me, this is an opportunity to celebrate the Tampa Bay area and it’s diversity,” Buckhorn told Watermark. “We are stronger together than we are apart.”

SPP2013Cap2It was clear the gay community embraced Buckhorn’s participation. They may have even preferred his presence to that of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has declined an invitation to lead the St. Pete Pride parade four years running.
“I’m very respectful of jurisdictional lines when I need to be, but at the same time we are the Tampa Bay area and this is the Tampa Bay parade,” Buckhorn said, careful not to disparage his counterpart in St. Petersburg.

For his part, Mayor Foster said he was driving his son to the University of Florida and would be out of town during Saturday’s gay pride festivities. Curious then, that at 1:31 p.m. a post appeared on his campaign Twitter account accompanied by a photograph of Foster standing in a wet parking lot with two-dozen volunteers.

“THANK YOU! To all of our terrific volunteers who joined us to walk neighborhoods on a rain Saturday morning!” the Tweet read.

It gave the appearance Foster, a Republican in his first term, was in town all along. Had he used his son as an excuse to skip the Pride parade?

Foster provided a photograph of himself with his son, arm-in-arm and smiling broadly, in front of the UF sign on campus and a receipt from a Gainesville restaurant. The campaign photograph, he said, was old though it remained on his Twitter account two days later.

Foster’s challengers, Democrats Rick Kriseman and Kathleen Ford, walked in Saturday’s parade. Both said they were disappointed at Foster’s absence and the confusing tweet.

“It’s stunning because we had such happy news about DOMA,” said Ford, who walked with fellow congregants from St. Peter’s Church. “It was a happy parade, so I don’t think people cared about the rain.”

Kriseman, who talked to voters all day at his festival booth, said he didn’t understand how Foster could become the first St. Petersburg mayor to sign the proclamation but not attend.

“From my perspective, it’s disappointing because, with 125,000 people, this is the largest event in the state,” Kriseman said. “I have always walked in the parade and I will continue to do so when I am mayor.”

All eight members of the St. Petersburg City Council signed an LGBT Pride Proclamation, the first time in the city’s history. Mayor Foster refused to sign the document, but a week later wrote his own proclamation.

Earlier this year, St. Pete Pride organizers invited Tampa Bay area elected leaders to ride in the parade. Tampa’s mayor is the highest-ranking official to accept in the event’s 11-year history.

Buckhorn, who implemented a Domestic Partnership registry in Tampa, was the first to sign a Pride Proclamation this year. Tampa has tried Pride events in the past, but does not currently have a Pride parade.

In early June, the Hillsborough County Commission unanimously repealed a 2005 ban on gay pride recognition.

“I don’t see the geographical boundaries that other people do,” Buckhorn said. “It is only fitting to take this opportunity to showcase our community. I support equal rights, I have a large pulpit and I use it.”

Pride in Art
While the street festival and promenade are the largest portion of St. Pete Pride, there were plenty of events leading up to the state’s largest LGBT Pride celebration on June 29. A week of events helped launch the 2013 celebration, which coincided with most pro-LGBT US Supreme Court decision in history coming down on June 26.

On Saturday, June 22, The Blue Lucy Art Gallery played host to the opening of the VISION art show, showcasing local LGBT artists. The reception brought attendees from throughout Tampa Bay and on June 26, many returned for the official St. Pete Pride night at the gallery.

Foster at Stonewall Reception
Mayor Foster surprised attendees of the annual Stonewall Reception for sponsors on June 25 when he spoke to the crowd of 200 or so at the St. Petersburg museum of Fine Arts. Foster read his own proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride month.

Foster said he wanted to write his own proclamation because of the respect he and the City of St. Petersburg has for diversity. Skains thanked Foster for attending and applauded him for becoming the first mayor of the city to officially recognize St. Pete Pride.

Hedda Lettuce skewers ‘Dolls’
The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival got in on the Pride action this year by inviting New York entertainer Hedda Lettuce-complete with her green hair and gorgeous, form-fitting green gown-to entertain a large crowd at the Palladium theater in downtown St. Pete. Lettuce did about 30 minutes of comedy on June 27, complete with a lip-synched performance to her own recording, before turning on the film, Valley of the Doll. The 1967 film starring Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Barbara Parkins and Susan Hayward, was under Lettuce’s scrutiny throughout its entirety, as she sat in the front row with a microphone and green laser pointer to comment on nearly every scene.

Some of the funniest comments came when Lettuce played the voice of different characters’ mothers when they answered ringing telephones and when she would comment on different 1960s fashions, like a hat resembling a loaf of bread.

The party continued after the show at Quench Lounge in Largo, where the official St. Pete Pride launch party, hosted by Melanie Minyon, brought out performers Jaeda Fuentes and an energetic dance troupe. Also on hand were Largo commissioners Michael Smith and Jamie Robinson.

Minyon also helped celebrate St. Pete Pride board president Aaron Horcha’s birthday with a cake and bar sing-a-long.

27/82 brings out the girls
For the first time, the women of Tampa Bay-and the state-had an event catering specifically to them by St. Pete Pride. Pride, along with Girl2Girl Productions and TwirlGirl. The 27/82 concert featured headliner Uh Huh Her and special guests Geri-X and Daphne Willis and an extended cast of Butchlesque.

The packed theater had swarms of women singing along to and dancing with the music by all three acts. Each time a new act took the stage PaMela Palumbo of TwirlGirl would introduce and thank the performers for helping St. Petersburg’s women celebrate Pride month. Between acts, Butchlesque put on a fashion show, offering different interpretations of what it means to be butch.

When each model would walk out to her own music, the crowd would swell with applause, whistles and screams. Kim Herbel, creator of Butchlesque, took the stage during each performance and introduced each performer individually.

Keeping the party going
A large thunderstorm forced the St. Pete Pride Street Festival to shut down an hour earlier than planned -3 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.-but that didn’t stop the party atmosphere in St. Petersburg. Georgie’s Alibi was slammed with patrons both inside and, once the skies cleared, outside in its parking lot, which was turned into a beer garden for the day. Strict security kept things safe and within the law by asking for IDs from everybody who entered, no matter how young-or old-they appeared.

SPP2013Cap3Several hours after the festival was wrapped, the crowd moved to the Flamingo Resort, where men and women both cooled down in the resort’s large pool and drank cocktails at several temporary bars set up around the courtyard. Many celebrating at Flamingo had to park at the neighboring Ace Hardware and its strip mall next door. Some said that it was the most crowded they had seen the resort since its grand opening in 2009.

The celebratory atmosphere continued into Sunday, where the official St. Pete Pride closing pool party returned to The Flamingo Resort. Several female impersonators took the outdoor stage around 4 p.m. and kept things going well into the night. Fortunately only scattered showers appeared on Sunday, meaning the rest of Pride weekend remained dry-except for those taking advantage of the swimming pool.

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