ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Clifford arrived on the corner of Third Avenue and 30th Street N early Saturday morning determined, despite occasional showers, to let no rain fall on his parade.
Wearing a large-brimmed hat adorned with black-and-white ostrich feathers, Clifford carried a jumbo umbrella studded with rhinestones and iridescent stickers. Atop the umbrella was an American flag, its white stripes brightened with rainbow colors.
"I'm here to show my support for the gay community," said Clifford, 47. "I'm out and I'm open. I have nothing to hide, and I don't care what people think."
He and his partner of 29 years, Tom Hlinko, 48, were attending their seventh St. Pete Pride Promenade and Street Festival. Together, they've watched what began as a modest effort to showcase gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses blossom into a colorful, raucous event billed as the largest celebration of gay pride in the state.
Saturday's festivities came at the end of a monthlong party that included a comedy festival, a cruise and an auction. Parade co-chairman Jeff Klein said he expected this year's turnout, estimated at 80,000, to top last year's, since the event coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City's Greenwich Village.
In June 1969, police raided a gay bar, and patrons fought back. The next year, about 5,000 people marched in New York City, marking the first pride celebration.
"This goes to show that we all can get along for one day," Klein said, eyeing the floats as they lined up along the parade route. "It gives you a glimpse of what could be."
More than 120 entries took off from the staging area just after 10 a.m. and headed east on Third Avenue N through the city's Kenwood neighborhood. Among them: the Florida Gay Rodeo Association, a group of lasso-wielding men wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots, and the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps, a platoon of flag-twirling men dressed in red sleeveless shirts, camouflage-patterned shorts and black, high-top sneakers.
The Florida Gulf Coast Couples also marched, supporting a big balloon arch in hues from lavender to red. Same-sex couples carried signs indicating how many years they've been together: 3 years, 20 years, 32 years.
Along the parade route, Danielle Winkler cheered and held her hands out for beads. Winkler, 18, wearing sunglasses with rainbow-colored frames, said she was there to support her friends who are gay.
Noah Johnson, 17, said he had come to show his pride for St. Petersburg and the gay community. And Jordan Krakik, 17, who shattered his heel last week in a swimming accident, said he worried that he might have to miss this year's event.
"It would have been sad because this is really fun," said Krakik, who sported a rainbow-colored bandana on the cast on his left leg.
The parade turned right onto 31st Street, then left onto Central Avenue, passing vendors selling T-shirts, jewelry and artwork, and crowds of people four rows deep.
Off to one side, a group of protesters waved signs and screamed through bullhorns. Paradegoers ignored them.
"Everyone has the right to express their feelings," said Clifford, still carrying his big umbrella. "You just can't please everyone all the time. But you know what? Knowing that makes life easier sometimes."
Donna Winchester can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8413.