ABOVE: Come OUT St. Pete board members and grand marshals Brian Longstreth, Claire Elisan, Jim Woodfield, Cole Foust, Jayson Clancey, Chris Jones, Bill Kody and Chuck Henson at Metro’s LGBTQ Welcome Center Sept. 17. Photo by Ryan Williams-Jent.
ST. PETERSBURG | Come OUT St. Pete (COSP) will hold its third annual outing Oct. 3-11 in the Grand Central District (GCD) and nearby neighborhoods to celebrate National Coming Out Day 2019.
COSP exists to advocate for community awareness and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They do so with events that celebrate “coming out of the closet and into the world.”
“Entering year three, we are continuing to grow and expand on who we are as a non-profit organization,” COSP Co-Chair Chris Jones says. “Our focus is on our mission statement and how we can be effective within our community.”
Official events begin Oct. 3 with the organization’s redesigned Taste of Grand Central, a celebration highlighting restaurants and bars in the GCD. Participating establishments will donate a percentage of their sales from 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. to the GCD Association and COSP.
Bambu the Eco Salon will subsequently host The Elemental Ball Oct. 4 from 7-10 p.m., a competitive fundraiser drawing inspiration from New York City’s 1980s ball culture. The gathering benefits the VFW Post No. 39 and is spearheaded by salon co-owner Chris Kiss, who will also entertain as Miss COSP 2019 Victoria Michaels. A lip sync battle at Dog Bar St. Pete will be held Oct. 4 from 8-11 p.m., with winners of each event receiving substantial cash or prizes.
The second annual COSP parade will follow Oct. 5 from 11 a.m. until noon. It will begin at 20th St. and head west on Central Ave to 30th St., featuring more than 20 parade entries, a custom rainbow flag that will be unfurled along the route, Miss COSP and for the first time, three grand marshals.
This year’s honorees were chosen by COSP’s board for their support of Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community. The grand marshals are Cole Foust, Metro Inclusive Health’s LGBTQ Division Manager; Claire Elisan, CEO of the nonprofit Project No Labels and Chuck Henson, longtime Spectrum Bay News 9 traffic expert and anchor.
“What’s a parade without drag queens and grand marshals?” Jones muses. “All three of our grand marshals as well as our 2019 Miss COSP are wonderful representations of our mission statement as influential leaders within the community!”
“The activists of historical events like Compton’s Cafeteria riot and Stonewall paved the way for a transgender person like me to be out, proud and visible,” Foust reflects, calling his inclusion surreal. “It is my hope that LGBTQ+ people and allies never forget our history and continue to honor those that came before us through action.”
Elisan agrees, stressing the importance of working together. “It’s important that we represent our community well,” she says, “and always remember the core of our efforts: to give strength to those living in the shadow and grant them the courage to step out and be themselves.”
“I am extremely proud to be part of the grand marshal team,” Henson adds. “It is my goal to be a good representative of our diverse community. St. Pete is my home and whether you’re my neighbor or one of our wonderful visitors, I hope you feel our welcoming spirit.”
The COSP festival will also begin at 11 a.m. along the parade route, featuring 100 vendors. “There will be live entertainment throughout the day, creative vendors, food and more,” Jones says. “It’s actually quite a lot of fun.”
Rounding out the official events are an after party at Enigma from 9 p.m.-3 a.m. and two beach parties Oct. 6. COSP will hold a Family Beach Day at Pass-A-Grille Beach from noon until 4 p.m. and a Rooftop Sunset T-Dance from 4-9 p.m. at Hurricane Seafood Restaurant.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will then recognize COSP with a proclamation at the Sunshine Center Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. before organizers close out this year’s festivities. The closing party will be held at Metro’s LGBTQ Welcome Center from 6-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day.
“While many of us have been out for several years and it is more accepting today than ever, we understand there are still those individuals … that remain in the closet,” Jones says. “It’s not just about coming out to family, friends and co-workers; coming out is also about finding your place within the LGBTQ community. COSP is a fantastic way to become more involved.”
For more information about COSP and its surrounding official and unofficial events, visit ComeOutStPete.org.