ST. PETERSBURG – Still exhilarated from last week's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, St. Pete Pride paradegoers didn't let cascades of rain dampen their spirits.
Following the court's rulings Wednesday, which led to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and to allow same-sex marriage in California, an exuberant crowd was eager to show their support Saturday for the Florida LGBT community. Whether plain-clothed spectators on the sidelines or parade participants decked out in their most outrageous outfits — DOMA and Proposition 8 were on everyone's minds.
The annual parade and festival, which took place along Central Avenue through the Grand Central and Historic Kenwood neighborhoods, has grown to be the largest pride event in the state. Despite almost constant rain, which forced organizers to start shutting down the festival an hour early, the event drew about 125,000 people.
Executive Director Eric Skains believes attendance — up 25 percent from last year —was boosted by excitement over the court rulings.
"It's a step in the right direction, finally," event staff member Chad Henderson, 27, said of the rulings. "It's a big hit. Everybody's talking about it."
"Just listen to the noise," said Morgan Butler, of Clearwater, regarding the crowd's cheers for every float. "I love it."
Butler, wearing technicolor eyelashes and a rainbow-streaked wig, came to the parade with her wife Paula Butler and their five sons. The family huddled under an oversized rainbow umbrella.
Butler, who married her partner in Ohio in 2011, said she believes this week's Supreme Court decisions have made her and local LGBT community optimistic that the benefits of the DOMA repeal will soon extend to Florida, making enthusiasm at Saturday's parade higher than years past.
"Everybody's happier," she said. "Equality is number one."
The Butlers' two youngest sons, Kristian Hartman, 10, and Nekii Butler, 5, ran into the parade to grab as many giveaways as they could. Kristian was wearing lipstick, and his older brother Dustin Hartman, 15, had a shirt that read, "I support my moms."
Dressed down compared to the many of the paradegoers' colorful costumes, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made his first appearance at the St. Pete Pride parade wearing a suit.
The event was a "no-brainer" opportunity to show his support for the diverse Tampa Bay community, Buckhorn said, standing by the black convertible that carried him through the parade.
"We're one community, and we do better when we recognize that," he said. "We don't demonize people for any reason."
Sue Byrne said Buckhorn was cheered by everyone when he passed her spot on the parade route.
"They were saying, 'We just want you to come over here and be our mayor,'" said Byrne, 48, a St. Petersburg property manager.
She added that she is disappointed in St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster because he's not at the parade taking place in his own city, and he does not plan to attend next year. Foster has said he had a prior commitment this weekend.
Sporting a leather vest, chin-strap goatee and a sash proclaiming his title -– Mr. St. Pete Pride – 25-year-old Rico Taylor rode through the parade on the back of a convertible.
Taylor, a St. Petersburg native who now lives in New Port Richey, said the Supreme Court rulings have stirred excitement among members of the Florida LGBT community.
"Everyone has a clearer mind and heart knowing that maybe Florida will be next," said Taylor, an illusionist.
The parade ended with more than 100 people carrying a rainbow flag that was so long that it never seemed to end. A crowd barreled into the street after them in celebration, despite the pounding rain.
Lauren Carroll can be reached at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LaurenFCarroll.