ST. PETERSBURG — Stanley Solomons has been at the helm of St. Pete Pride for only eight months, but he still expects the celebration to rock St. Petersburg streets.
Saturday's event, the 10th anniversary for the street festival, is being dubbed "Carnivale — 10 Years of Pride in Paradise." The event is the largest Pride celebration in Florida and has become an international attraction.
"We try to make it a little bigger each year," said Solomons, the board president. "This is exciting."
Since its debut in 2003, the celebration has become one of the city's biggest events, outdrawing the Martin Luther King Jr. parade with an average of 80,000 in attendance the past few years.
Hundreds of vendors converge on the Grand Central and Historic Kenwood neighborhoods, and dozens of floats inch down Central Avenue for the five-hour event.
Solomons, a Gulfport resident and a retired financial analyst, was a board member for several years before being elected president in October.
With the banning of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in September, this year will mark the first time the festival can honor gays and lesbians from the U.S. armed services. Solomons said veterans and military members will play a prominent role this year.
He discussed this year's event with the Tampa Bay Times.
What's been the biggest change in the last 10 years?
Largely, the number of people participating. We have about 150 separate organizations with a couple thousand people. We even have about 12 churches with 300 to 400 people participating. I have no complaints. You would have never seen that in the first year. In 10 years, times have changed.
Why has this grown into the Southeast's biggest gay pride parade?
Our sponsors. Everybody in Florida knows it's the last weekend in June. It's always miserably hot; people keep coming. Hotels sell out. It makes St. Petersburg a destination. It shows more people are interested. We even have Deborah Cox (R&B singer and Broadway star) this year. We'll even have a JumboTron that will display everything. Businesses do well. It benefits everyone.
Why do you have 10 grand marshals in the parade?
A lot of organizations in this city have been integral. We want to honor these people. If they wouldn't have done this 10 years ago, this might not be happening today. They're been beneficial to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Former Mayor Rick Baker didn't sign a proclamation for the event. Has current Mayor Bill Foster been more supportive of the event?
We got a proclamation this year from Councilman Jeff Danner. Bill Foster sent a letter this year and last year. The letter tells people that "we're glad you're here." Mayor Foster has been to some of our events. … He's not openly hostile in any way.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.