St. Petersburg | I was with my boyfriend Anthony at LA Fitness when the Supreme Court of the United States ruling on marriage equality came in.
“Oh my god!” I screamed. “We can get married!”
“In which states?” he asked.
“All of them!”
It was at that moment that I knew this Pride would be different from any other. Of course, St. Pete has a tradition of that. Since its inception, the event has gone from a rinky-dink street festival of a small group of devoted activists and beautiful freaks to a full-blown event that competes with the likes of Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Still, in light of the SCOTUS ruling, this year’s Pride would, without a doubt, by its very nature, be different.
The events began at 5 p.m. and, to be honest, it was still way too hot to do anything but drink or sit in air conditioning. Since I was working, neither option was in the cards. I saw the sights. It was hotter than two hells and hard to find the bright side. Parking was a nightmare, as parking for events hosting 200,000 people typically are.
There was a benefit to being out early though, and that was seeing the youth contingency of Pride. Of course there were the kids and their families, gay and straight and everyone, having a good time. Especially those who came prepared for the heat.
A couple of cute-as-a-button teenagers, Aaron Williams, 14, and Ivy Gray, 13 (who both identify as bisexual), were seated together and gave me a breakdown of their opinions.
“I feel like gay people understand each other better than straight people,” Williams said. “There is a connection there that isn’t there with straight people.”
Gray agreed. “I felt the same connection with girls that I have been with.”
Both Williams and Gray were elated by the SCOTUS decision as well and felt like it was finally a way to, as Gray put it, quiet “rude Christian people”.
The Christian protestor factor was another aspect of Pride that was different this year. In previous years, there was more apathy from attendees when walking by the tiny section of people preaching judgment as love, or hate-speech. The early protestors of the day were much tamer and, sadly, were getting a lot of vulgar reactions from (possibly drunk) teenagers, who hurled hate at relatively docile protestors while performing lewd acts of dancing that made me uncomfortable, even as a journalist.
When I traversed to Georgie’s Alibi to see the parade kick-off, there was more normalcy. Shirtless men, scantily clad women, free birds and freaks and, per usual, a whole lot of ebullience.
Joe Jost, who happens to frequent the same gym I do (he openly admitted he “loves watching me work out” which, not gonna lie, gave me a second wind after the oppressive heat of the earlier hours), has been attending St. Pete Pride since it began and feels it has changed for the better.
“There is much more acceptance. I personally am much more at ease with being myself,” he says.
The parade itself was much better than the previous year’s set-up. “They did a great job, especially for volunteers,” said Scott Durfee of Spathose. “There are some kinks that needed to be worked out but it’s important to give people time to figure it out. But this is still a great economic driver for our community.”
I ran past the grand marshals—Larry Biddle waved at me, which is always a pleasant thing—and made my way downtown where, as the night progressed, the bacchanalia ensued. Sexual propositions and pansexuality abounded; one attendee, Michael Riople, informed me he is attracted to anyone who “wears black as a summer color.” The atmosphere was both fun and what one expects from St. Pete Pride
The parade was noticeably better this year. Power issues and electricity kinks were the major lessons learned from last year’s mistakes, and modified designs made the floats more suitable for nighttime viewing.
Still, despite any small grievances, there was an air of political upheaval that made this Pride so much different and historic.
“I hope people don’t forget how it happened,” said Will Rowle, 22. “I hope people don’t forget this required a battle.”
In the end, I hope people don’t forget as well, but that is something that is out of my hands. Still, Jay Aresty, owner of the downtown bar Fubar—which he lovingly refers to as an “an accidental gay bar”, as it has a huge gay customer base despite not being advertised as such—said something that left me feeling optimistic:
“My parents actually met at a hush-hush anti-LGBT discrimination meeting in the ‘70s in Dade County. So coming here, and being an ally, is a great thing for me. I like it here. It’s great timing for the Supreme Court. It’s just a great time.”
After all was said and done, Eric Skains, executive director of St. Pete Pride, said that the weekend went well from both an entertainment and operational standpoint.
“As far as the parade goes, I think it was fabulous,” Skains said. “I think over time it will get better and better, but I definitely feel like it was a step up from last year, and hopefully next year it will be a step up from next.”
“We had a fabulous team,” Skains continued. “The organization behind the scenes this year was flawless; it allowed myself and the others to have an easier Pride. Obviously, with 150 participants and 350 exhibitors, there are going to be a few hiccups, but for the most part everything ran smoothly. I think everyone enjoyed it, and we haven’t really had anyone say anything negative.
Finally, Skains had faith that the numbers will back up his good feelings.
“We should be getting the numbers in the next couple of days, but from the preliminaries it blew last year’s out of the water. We are excited and we think that we might have hit that quarter of a million mark,” he said.
Photos by Bruce Hardin and Nick Cardello.