ST. PETERSBURG — Life was discouraging when Carl St. Myer went through puberty five decades ago. He couldn't even name the stirrings he felt. He later got married "because maybe that would fix it," he said.
He was 30 before a marriage counselor "told me I needed to be who I really wanted to be," he said.
So St. Myer's 40-minute trek Saturday on the GaYbor pirate ship represented more than just 14 blocks of pulsating music, cheering crowds and Florida-in-June sweat.
Affirmation went along for the ride.
The St. Pete Pride parade "is a way of celebrating who I really am after spending a lot of my life being suppressed of who I was," St. Myer said.
He and his partner of eight years, Willy Emerson, wore matching black kilts as they tossed beads for GaYbor, a coalition of restaurants, clubs and other businesses that have helped revive Ybor City as a gay-friendly destination.
Staging for the parade began early Saturday at 31st Street and Fourth Avenue N. Several dozen floats waited their turn, along with twirling groups and flag wavers. In one patch of parking lot, middle-aged singers from Metropolitan Community Church earnestly practiced We Shall Overcome, barely audible amid music from the floats and loud greetings when friends spotted friends.
Finally, the GaYbor float lurched south along leafy 31st Street in Kenwood, then east on the hot asphalt of Central Avenue, which lined with people three to four rows deep.
There were couples, singles, older people, 20-somethings and families with kids in strollers. Vendor booths offered food, jewelry and chances to sign up for cruises or rescue a pet. Car dealers, financial institutions and real estate offices handed out fliers, illustrating how corporate America has embraced gay pride events.
Off to the side at 27th Street, a dozen or so protesters waved signs that quoted biblical verses. Paradegoers used them as a backdrop for snapping photographs of each other.
St. Petersburg police reported no trouble or arrests.
On the GaYbor float, Carlos Lopez, 40, host at Streetcar Charlies in Ybor, swayed to music on the pirate ship's top deck, occasionally lifting his shirt to flash slim, tight abs to the crowd.
Lopez is from New York, where such parades can draw a million people. "Now I am proud we are bringing this to St. Petersburg," he said.
Emerson recalled the 55-plus community in Lakeland that he and St. Myer left four years ago after neighbors asked them to stay away from the community swimming pool and potluck dinners. The explanation: Their presence made others uncomfortable when grandchildren visited.
"We felt so ostracized. Like fish out of water," Emerson said. "That's what makes this so exciting."