Thursday, May 24, 2018
Events

St. Pete Pride grand marshals set to celebrate Supreme Court's DOMA ruling

Carrie West threatened to break out his 5-foot-high tiara and wave the entire ride down Central Avenue in Saturday's St. Pete Pride Promenade.

Who could blame him?

Not only were he and his partner of 35 years, Mark Bias, elected by the community as two of the three parade grand marshals, but as an advocate of equality, he might be having the best year ever.

"Just to be honored by grand marshaling the parade is a good thing, but this is unbelievable," said West, co-owner of MC Film Fest in Ybor City. "It's not just wonderful, it's amazing."

By this, West means Wednesday's Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that did not extend federal privileges to married couples of same-sex orientation.

It caps off a 2013 when, in early spring, West registered his relationship with Bias on Tampa's newly minted domestic partnership registry.

And two weeks ago, he sat in awe as the Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to roll back an eight-year ban on recognizing gay pride.

"I wasn't even expecting the county commission vote because it happened one year to the day when I stood before then and was shunned — absolutely shunned," West said. "With the Supreme Court decision ... you can expect some gatherings in the parks, I tell you."

Grand marshaling the Pride parade just feels like the needed punctuation on years of advocacy by the president emeritus of the GaYBOR Coalition.

West and Bias share the honor with Susan McGrath, president of the Pinellas County Stonewall Democrats.

"I'm really an average person," said McGrath, president of the Pinellas County Stonewall Democrats. "To be voted grand marshal ... for something meaningful, I was very taken aback."

The shock of being chosen has left McGrath a little flat-footed, she admits.

"I do not have a special outfit," she said. "I'll just wear something a little bit cool that holds up in the Florida summertime. I'm more worried about my makeup running off."

McGrath said she hopes with her appearance in the promenade (the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats also have a float) she can promote an agenda of advocacy and show people that there are still hills to climb.

"The essence of St. Pete Pride is shifting and moving away from dignitaries and celebrities," she said. "People care more about the issues and the activism coming out of the community."

Victories have emboldened gay-rights advocates who had been patiently waiting for change to push forward, West said. DOMA defeat rallies were planned for Wednesday night but West predicted the party will continue on through the weekend.

"The more (partiers) the merrier," West said. "I'm never one to be a second-class citizen. I'm always right there on Main Street. With all that has happened, this will be wonderful celebration."

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