Rays’ Pride Night extends team’s long support of LGBTQ community

Tampa Bay’s baseball team has a history of going to bat for diversity.
Groundskeepers spray a rainbow Rays logo on the mound before the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Los Angeles Angels on June 14, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (MONICA HERNDON   |   Times)
Groundskeepers spray a rainbow Rays logo on the mound before the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Los Angeles Angels on June 14, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published June 14
Updated June 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Rainbow flags draped the corners of Tropicana Field on Friday.

A special “Rays” sign lit in rainbow colors sat above the RumFish Grill deck in left center field, and special Stonewall Riot exhibit from Equality Florida sat in the Budweiser Porch area.

Jane Castor, Tampa’s first openly gay mayor, threw out the first pitch.

The Rays saluted the LGTBQ community with Pride Night Friday, but unlike some franchises, the team’s commemorative night did not represent a new endeavor for the Rays. SB Nation reports that this is the first year every MLB team will feature a special recognition of the community, but it’s been a regular staple in Tampa Bay for many years.

In fact, Tampa Bay welcomed a sellout crowd of more than 40,000 to its Pride Night in 2016, an event that was months in the making but occurred just days after the Pulse massacre in Orlando.

Rays president Brian Auld said Friday that the memorable 2016 Pride Night game and Friday’s celebration signify the team’s long-term commitment to setting a tone of inclusion.

“I think that we were able to do what we did that night because of the credibility that we had earned with that community many years prior,” Auld said. “The most obvious one was when we were the first and for awhile the only team to sign on to the Supreme Court amicus in favor of marriage equality.

“It’s hard to believe that was less than five years ago. So, having done that, having participated in the It Gets Better Campaign, which again, at the time for a sports team to be involved in that, especially for a sports team in the south to be involved with that, it was pretty incredible.”

Mayor of Tampa Jane Castor throws out the ceremonial first pitch on Pride Night before the Rays face the Angels on Friday. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Mayor of Tampa Jane Castor throws out the ceremonial first pitch on Pride Night before the Rays face the Angels on Friday. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Auld said the team’s efforts to support the LGBTQ community continue. The franchise recently signed a new Supreme Court amicus brief that calls for a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the work place or other areas. The Rays also are working closely with Athlete Ally and Equality Florida to strengthen workplace protections for LGTBQ persons.

On Friday, the team’s celebration also included a special artist print in its season-long series from Jabari Reed-Diop, an up-and-coming artist known as iBoms. The print features Raymond, the Rays mascot, wearing a rainbow shirt. Fans who purchased a special ticket page received a Rays Pride Hat. Many Rays personnel also sported “TB Pride” T-shirts with the team’s sunburst logo in rainbow colors.

Auld said the efforts all gear toward promoting diversity and inclusion.

“That sort of tolerance in our society is good for everybody,” Auld said. “We focus on the LGBTQ community tonight because there’s been a history of marginalization in this country and we need to recognize that and deal with it. But this is a night of celebration, a celebration of all the progress that has been made.”

Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow @hoop4you.

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