It's a year of firsts for St. Pete Pride, the annual weekend bash celebrating gay pride with every color of the rainbow.
It will span four days this year, Thursday through Sunday, and include a parade, concerts and exhibits scattered throughout the weekend.
Eric Skains is the organization's executive director. He was formerly involved with Pride in Houston and this will be his first year leading the St. Petersburg festivities. Here, he answers some questions about what to expect this year:
Can you tell me a little bit about this year's Pride theme, "Global Equality?"
It was something that we put up for a community vote. Last year at our board retreat, we came up with three different themes and then let our online community decide. It's kind of perfect timing. Not only does it cover equality all over the globe, but also LGBT equality on more of a worldwide aspect, like how a lot of attention was given to what happened in Russia during the Olympics.
This is a year of firsts for St. Pete Pride. Did you approach Mayor Rick Kriseman to participate, or did he approach you?
We had known for awhile that Rick was going to be in the parade. We approached him, but it was kind of assumed that he would walk. He walked as a candidate last year and as a City Council member, too. Also, for the first time, St. Pete police will be able to participate wearing their uniforms. All city staff members and officials are encouraged to come out and walk.
What do you think this participation says about attitudes toward the LGBT community in St. Pete?
I think St. Pete in general, at least in City Hall, is finally representative of the community that makes up St. Pete. There's no really defined gay district in St. Petersburg, and that's not because one's not wanted, it's because one is not needed. You can go anywhere in confidence and know you won't be harassed or feel unwelcome.
St. Pete Pride will span four days this year — what inspired the extension?
Two things — we kind of maxed out what we could do in one day. We wanted to separate the parade and the festival. It also increases length of stay for people who are coming from out of town. We have about 40 percent of attendees living outside Pinellas County, and of that we've seen about 3,800 hotel rooms being booked for that weekend. Just even our T-shirts, people are buying T-shirts all the way from Boston and Indiana.
As a gay man, what do you think are the most prevalent challenges facing the LGBT community?
I've said for a while that Pride is not an organization that fights for equality on a legislative level. We fight for equality on a street level. No matter how many laws are overturned, nothing is going to change until we change people's perceptions. Kids aren't committing suicide because they can't get married in Florida, but because they're being bullied and harassed. The reason Matthew Shepard was murdered has to do with how those kids were raised. Just look at race in this country. The laws changed a long time ago, but there's still a racial divide. It's a generational mind-set, and it will take awhile to progress forward.
What do you hope participants take away from the weekend celebration?
We hope that people see the diversity that is St. Petersburg. That's part of the reason it is in St. Pete, because of the inclusion and diversity. We hope that the event is reflective of that. Even when people leave, we want them to know that even though Pride is only one weekend a year, there are plenty of LGBT-friendly businesses and corporations here all year long.
Katie Mettler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow her on Twitter @kemettler.