For many years the members of the Tampa GLBTA community were not allowed to celebrate their own gay pride parade. But Tampa Pride, a nonprofit organization, has rallied and fought and now, after 13 years, St. Pete’s pride parade has a Tampa companion.
Pride parades were not always banned in the city. Back in 1982, Tampa’s first-ever parade was held at USF. President of Pride, Carrie West, remembers its humble beginnings.
“At that time we played softball, we had a barbecue; people came and rode their horses there. There were so many dogs and horses there. It was all sand dunes,” he said. “Each of the bars (in the area) had a softball team for representation and we got together and had musical groups. People came together and just sang.”
But after 20 years of successful pride parades all around the city, in 2005, Commissioner Ronda Storms helped ban the parade and any like it in Hillsborough County. According to West, the commission didn’t want anything to do with GLBTA organizations.
“Let’s put it down to the fact that Hillsborough County did not want to acknowledge, promote or finance anything GLBT,” he said.
After over a decade without a parade to represent the Tampa GLBTA community, the question is, why now?
“Why not?” West said. “This the time that everything is happening in the community with the economic growth of Tampa and Hillsborough County. We have a big diverse group of gay people coming in.”
Tampa Pride has been planning and gathering funds for the free event for a little over a year now. West said the preparations were made possible by a very enthusiastic group of supporters.
“Last summer we got together to determine if it was time. Was it going to be this time or next year? And if it was, who would be the leaders? So we held a meeting and the 12 people that attended were assigned a job,” West said. “Everyone was 100 percent saying they wanted Tampa Pride to proceed. So we said, ‘Let’s get the process going.’”
West said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was a big supporter of the parade because he was aware of how lucrative other Prides have been in the past.
“We didn’t ask for money from Bob we just told him about our situation, and he knows what the economic impact is,” he said. “Last year it brought in $18 million for St. Pete alone.”
Not only is the event a great way to bring in money for the city, but it is also representative of the strides that the country is making toward equality.
“Now we are getting rid of that black cloud over the city,” he said. “For the people who didn’t come to Hillsborough County because they were afraid of all the discrimination they’d face. This opens it up; human rights are going to be a wonderful factor in this new era of Tampa.”
While it seems the state has taken a step forward toward equality with legislation for gay marriage being approved, the state is taking two steps back with the HB 583/SB 1464 bill, or the “Bathroom Bill” which, if passed, will make many transgender people using the restroom and other sex-segregated facilities with which they identify guilty of a misdemeanor.
Former president of the Trans+ Student Union (TSU) and active member Prin Luis said this bill is a dangerous message to send to the transgender community.
“It is already really scary for trans people to go to the bathroom,” Luis said. “People don’t know what trans people look like, people don’t know anything about us really. So, when they think of a trans woman going to the bathroom, they are picturing maybe a drag queen, maybe their husband in a dress. While people might look like that in some cases, in a lot of cases this law is going to legally force people who look like everyday people to use bathrooms they don’t look like they’re supposed to be in. It’s not good, not safe and not comfortable.”
Members of TSU will be marching in the Pride parade not only to enjoy the festivities but also to raise awareness for trans rights. Allison Fusaro, a sophomore majoring in psychology, wants people to realize the major impact trans people have on the community.
“I think it’s very important that the trans community gets more representation because they are very underrepresented, but this is the wrong way to go about it,” she said. “I’m glad that there is something out there in everyone’s face but this is just wrong.”
TSU is excited and hopeful that the USF community will show support because of the large impact the university has on the area.
“This is the first one in years, it is finally legal again to do so,” Luis said. “So it’s really exciting and we really want there to be a big USF presence there because USF is a really big employer in the Tampa community so it is very important.”
The event includes a parade, a festival, an exclusive VIP Sponsors Gala and will be held in the famous GaYBOR district of Ybor City.
West wants people to understand that Pride isn’t just for gay people — their allies are also welcome.
“We are calling it less gay pride, more diversity pride. This is for people who have a brother, sister, mother, father, uncle or aunt who is gay,” he said. “It’s not a black, white, Asian. It’s not a big, tall, short. It’s not if you’re heavy or you’re light, if you’re old or if you’re young. Tampa Pride celebrates who the person is. This is to celebrate the fact that companies have gay workers and show them pride and respect. It’s a lot of positivism.”
West is most excited to see people feel comfortable enough to live out loud and to be themselves without fear of judgement.
“(I’m excited about) the fact that they can walk freely down the streets. (I’m excited for) over 100 different organizations and businesses and floats and companies showing their respect and proudness in the Pride parade.”
The Pride parade will be held on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. on 7th street in Ybor City.