Tampa – Every vendor space is accounted for and the parade lineup is to capacity. Those are two very wonderful problems for organizers of the inaugural Tampa Pride celebration taking place on Saturday, March 28 in Ybor City.
The festival runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m. March 28 on 8th Avenue between 16th and 18th Streets. The parade is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. and will run east along 7th Avenue beginning at Nuccio Parkway and ending at 20th Street.
“The enthusiasm has been excellent,” said Carrie West, Tampa Pride president. “Both filled up weeks ago. It shows the community’s excitement.”
And that excitement is a long time coming. In 2002, Tampa saw its last large Pride event fizzle. Some blamed a lack of grassroots efforts. Others claim financial improprieties led to its demise. But West makes one thing very clear, this year’s Tampa Pride is unrelated to the old organization that ran from 1982-2002. Many of the new board members are part of the GaYbor District Coalition, founded in 2007.
That was two years after the Hillsborough County Commission voted to ban county employees from recognizing or sponsoring LGBT Pride events. That ban was lifted in 2013.
“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.”
Kurt King, a resident of Tampa for more than two decades, a Tampa Pride board member and one of this year’s grand marshals, is excited about the change in the county’s political climate.
“The evolution has been incredible,” said King. “It hurt when the domestic partnership registry failed the first time [in 2013]. When we went to the board the second time in 2014 we basically told the commissioners, ‘you are either a bigot or you are not a bigot.’ They got put on the spot and had to answer if they were for love or they were not. They all changed their votes and they have turned the tide. It’s incredible that they did that.”
Earlier this month, all but one commissioner signed a proclamation recognizing Tampa Pride. In December, the City of Tampa signed on as a major sponsor, which alleviated some of the fundraising challenges for the street festival and parade with $35,000 in in-kind city services.
It was the first sponsorship the city has given since a 2008 moratorium was placed on financially supporting new festivals.
“Because the monies for sponsoring an event like this come from more than one part of the city budget, we had to do some shuffling around and literally take a little from here and a little from there to make it work,” said Ali Glisson, public affairs director for the city. “Mayor [Bob] Buckhorn has long been a supporter of LGBT issues and he sees the new Pride celebration as a very positive thing for the city. So if there was any way we could help support it we were going to make it work.”
Glisson said the sponsorship money will help cover everything from police and fire protection and EMS services to traffic control and trash pick-up.
“We are ecstatic over the decision from the City of Tampa to sign on as a co-sponsor of the event,” said West. ”We’d like to thank Mayor Bob Buckhorn and many of his staff for their tremendous support. This is yet another sign of Tampa’s commitment to diversity and to the dedication and support of the entire LGBT community. This sponsorship is an example of Tampa putting its commitment to diversity into action.”
Organizers are hopeful that spring breakers visiting the area will attend Tampa Pride, enjoy themselves and return next year. Locals, however, are what have made the 2015 celebration possible, West said.
“I showed up at a 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.”
Inspiration can also be found in the other grand marshal, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor featured on this issue’s cover with King.
“Pride is a great opportunity for the entire community to come out and learn that our similarities are greater than our differences,” Castor said. “That usually happens when you bring diverse groups together.”
And Tampa has one of the most diverse populations in Florida—and all of those planning the event seem to hope every faction of the community attends.
“We have pride celebrations in Lakeland, Pasco County, north Pinellas County and Bradenton now,” West said. “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.”
West estimates 10,000 to 15,000 people will attend the festival and parade this year.
Tampa Pride Centro Ybor Stage lineup:
Saturday, March 28 (Times and performers may change without notice)
10-11:15 a.m. Opening remarks by area dignitaries
11:30-11:45 a.m. Local vocal performers
11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Crescendo: The Tampa Bay Women’s Chorus and Una Voce: The Florida Men’s Chorale
No performers during the Parade (1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. on 7th Avenue from Nuccio Parkway to 20th Street)
2:30-3:30pm Drag entertainment featuring: Esme Russell, Sashay Infiniti & Infiniti House, Matt Kaufman, Chanel, Alyson Wonderland, Amanda Bone, Jamie Xtravaganza Sky, Alexis De La Mer, Jelitza Fearse
3:30-4 p.m. (We are) Nexus
4:15-4:45 p.m. Inaya Day
4:45-5 p.m. Closing ceremonies