Tampa Pride 2015 was the first time Thomas Pena was able to celebrate in his home town. The 24-year-old Hillsborough County native has experienced LGBT Pride before, but never so close to home.
“It’s actually emotional,” Pena said while standing on 8th Avenue in Ybor City March 28. “I loved St. Pete Pride last year—and the year before. But it feels a little different celebrating who I am right here at home.”
The inaugural Tampa Pride was the first Pride Parade in Tampa since 2002. While there have been other smaller Pride festivals over the years, this was the first time that a large, public LGBT Pride celebration was held in more than a decade.
“Isn’t this amazing,” said Carrie West, president of Tampa Pride, during the festival. “I’m so happy. So proud. I know we still have a lot of work to do but I’m going to break down later when it’s all over.”
Estimates put 20,000-25,000 people in Ybor City on March 28. The height of the attendance numbers seemed to be during the 1 p.m. parade, which marched down 7th Avenue in Ybor City. Participants in the parade saw crowds seven or more people deep along the route.
“It has surpassed our expectations,” said Tom Barker, a Tampa Pride board member and an organizer of the street festival. “It’s amazing to see all of these people—and we’ve gotten amazing feedback.”
More than 80 units participated in the parade and 100 vendors packed the street festival. Before things got in full swing, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, newly elected Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco and Tampa Police Chief and grand marshal Jane Castor all spoke to the crowd.
“I’m thrilled to see Pride back in Tampa,” said Buckhorn.
Beckner praised his fellow commissioners who signed a proclamation recognizing Tampa Pride, adding that “next year, we’ll do what we can to get every commissioner to sign.”
Beckner was referring to newly elected commissioner Stacy White, who was the only commissioner to refuse to sign the proclamation.
Seeing that support on the stage was empowering to Pena, who said he had never met any of the officials, but respected them and thanked them for their support.
“Our mayor was here. He was here to tell me that it’s okay to be who I am and that I am a member of this community,” Pena said. “I can’t think of a better way to describe Pride than that.”
Photos by Lee Vandergrift.