ST. PETERSBURG – After all the controversy over the changes St. Pete Pride brought this year, it all seemed to be put aside for Pride weekend as thousands gathered along Bayshore Drive for the city’s first Pride parade downtown.
The Pride parade, the largest in the state, began with the first ever TransPride March along the parade route. More than 500 participants walked, starting from the end of the official parade route at Albert Whitted Park to the parade’s starting point at Vinoy Park, as watchers waved trans flags and shouted support to those walking.
“The TransPride March was amazing to see,” says Miguel Fuller, one half of the HOT 101.5 morning duo leading The Miguel & Holly Show. “I mean, the first time you do something, a new concept in a new location, you never know how it will turn out, but the enthusiasm they all had marching, it warmed my heart and I thought it was a perfect way to kick off the parade.”
Fuller, along with his co-host Holly O’Connor, hosted the St. Pete Pride parade from in front of the Glamstands along the parade’s route on Bayshore Drive.
“Holly and I have hosted Christmas parades, Mardi Gras and Halloween parades, but it was so much fun to be able to do it for the first St. Pete Pride parade downtown,” Fuller says.
Fuller and O’Connor were joined by a cheering and energetic crowd, estimated to be around 200,000 people, according to St. Pete Pride. For all the activity downtown, St. Petersburg police reported zero arrests at the parade.
The parade had more than 150 groups participating, the largest in St. Pete Pride’s 15-year history, and Bayshore Drive lit up with twinkling lights, colorful costumes and glittering beads as the sun set over the bay giving attendees the full effect of a nighttime parade.
As the parade came toward its end, fireworks lit up the sky over the bay, another first for St. Pete Pride.
“From top to bottom, for everything to be so new with all the back and forth in the community, you just never know how it’s going to turn out, but the energy I felt from the start of the TransPride March to the fireworks at the end, it was just wonderful,” Fuller says.
The parade’s first year in St. Pete’s downtown area wasn’t without its issues, but any concerns were purely logistic in nature and are easy fixes for next year says St. Pete Pride executive director Eric Skains.
“There were some surprises that we didn’t anticipate. Some of the barricade placement we didn’t know about, but these are all easy fixes for next year,” he says. “I think the crowd in the North Straub Park leading up to the parade was much larger than we anticipated. We thought people would spread out more along the route as they had done in past parades, so that is something to address for next time.”
Possible changes for next year that could help to thin out the crowd in North Straub Park – estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000 people – could include moving the bleachers onto the water side of the parade route and simply adding more activities to other parts of the parade route.
The Pride street festival, held the following day at the parade’s original location in the Grand Central District, experienced a dip in the usual foot traffic.
“It is still early for those numbers, but typically we would get around 30,000 people out at the festival. It is looking like it was closer to 20,000 this year. I think the heat had a lot to do with that this year,” Skains says.
Several Grand Central businesses reported decent crowds before and after the parade and during the festival, but still nowhere near the financial boost they had on this weekend when the parade came down Central Avenue, although businesses may make up the difference when Grand Central presents their new event Come Out St. Pete this October.
St. Pete Pride was acknowledged this year by two politicians in very public ways. The first, and for the fourth year in a row, was St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman bringing in St. Pete Pride weekend by raising the rainbow flag above City Hall June 22. Kriseman has not only raised the flag since becoming mayor but has also marched in the parade since his City Council days.
The other acknowledgement came from Florida Congressman Charlie Crist, who recognized St. Pete Pride from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I rise today to recognize the St. Pete Pride parade for the significance to Pinellas County, Florida, and our LGBTQ community. Every June, for the past 15 years, the St. Pete Pride parade has brightened the streets of my hometown, leaving joy, love and equality in its wake,” Crist said.
Photos by Nick Cardello.