Mayor Rick Kriseman raises LGBT flag amid applause and protest

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, raise the American and Pride flags at St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday as part of a ceremony honoring Gay Pride Month. This weekend is St. Petersburg's annual Pride Festival. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, raise the American and Pride flags at St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday as part of a ceremony honoring Gay Pride Month. This weekend is St. Petersburg's annual Pride Festival. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
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ST. PETERSBURG — For the third year in a row, the Pride flag is flying below the Stars and Stripes at St. Petersburg's City Hall.

Mayor Rick Kriseman raised the rainbow flag Thursday, ahead of a weekend of events culminating a month of LGBT Pride.

"I'm so proud to live in a city that values diversity and inclusion," Amy Foster, chairwoman of the city council, said during a brief ceremony that had a noticeable police presence.

Kriseman, the first St. Petersburg mayor to raise the Pride flag, said it was his way of recognizing and celebrating a community that had long been ignored.

Last year's flag raising, Kriseman noted, came after the mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. This year, it's after the shooting of "49 of our neighbors ... most of whom were gay or lesbian" and who were "gunned down by a hateful and deranged man," he said.

Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, an organization that seeks to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said she hopes the lasting memorial of the Orlando tragedy "is that we end the normalization of hatred towards LGBT people."

Council member Darden Rice said during an interview that she had contemplated wearing some sort of protection during this weekend's St. Pete Pride festivities, but has decided against it.

"I've been haunted by old fears and worries that I haven't had in years. I've had more concerns about others' safety and my own than I care to admit, but I am walking proudly in the parade. We all are," she said.

Standing quietly on the fringes of the gathering was Scott Mahurin, founder of an anti-abortion group, Florida Preborn Rescue, and a small group of supporters with protest signs.

One read: Diversity is more than gay pride.

Mahurin, 39, an evangelical Christian, has been trying since 2014 to get Kriseman to also raise a blue and white pro-life flag at City Hall.

"He has ignored requests from my group to fly our flag," said Mahurin, who teaches Latin and rhetoric at the Paideia School of Tampa Bay, a small Christian school in Tampa. "We are not protesting anything other than the mayor excluding us."

Kriseman spokesman Benjamin Kirby said it is the mayor's prerogative to decide which flags fly.

"Pride is one of the largest events we do in the city and it has a large economic impact," Kirby said.

Kriseman has also raised the Dr. Carter G. Woodson flag in honor of Black History Month, a Grand Prix flag and a Tampa Bay Rays flag to mark opening day.

"I don't have any objection to those," Mahurin said. "It is just that when the mayor advances something with a social issue like gay marriage and gay pride, then he should be willing to advance a more conservative position like pro-life."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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