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NOW wants Krewe to admit women

Just as one civil rights battle ends in Tampa, another fight may be heating up. Members of the National Organization for Women in Tampa and other activists said Tuesday that the new Tampa Bay Gasparilla Festival won't be all-inclusive until Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla admits women.

Last week, the Krewe ended eight decades of racial exclusivity when it admitted two black members.

Women, however, still are barred from the social club.

"We're determined that there will be no sexism or violence toward women in this celebration," NOW president Carolyn Waldron said Tuesday, calling for women to be admitted to the Krewe. "Now that the doors have opened with the inclusion of blacks, we can't let this opportunity go by."

Krewe captain and spokesman Warren Frazier did not return telephone calls Tuesday.

Organizers of the new Tampa Bay Gasparilla Festival said all events during the monthlong celebration of parties and parades will be open to women, and that the Krewe will not be taking the leading role as in years past.

"Women will have a role in the parade," said Leonard Levy, a member of the festival committee and a civic leader. "The parade has never been "just the Krewe.' "

Although Levy acknowledged that the all-male Krewe will play an important role in the festival _ because it's paying for the $400,000 parade _ the festival committee will advise the Krewe. Committee chairman H. Doyle Harvill has insisted that the festival include all sectors of the community.

Last fall, the Coalition of African-American Organizations led virulent protests against the Krewe, prompting the group to cancel its annual parade rather than admit black members.

At the time, black people questioned the city's role in the parade, saying it was inappropriate for the city to endorse an event run by a segregated organization or to donate city money toward clean-up.

Mayor Sandy Freedman said Monday that she would like to see women members in the Krewe but was not optimistic.

"I don't think it would be realistic to accomplish that goal," Freedman said. "They are not set up that way. If we were starting from scratch, of course, we would want to include everybody."

Freedman stressed that the new festival will include many groups, not just the Krewe. Planners envision weeks of related activities _ similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans _ that would include all segments of the community. Activities would include the Gasparilla Sidewalk Art Festival, The Knights of Sant' Yago night parade, the Doug Williams Celebrity Golf Tournament and a strong tie-in with the Florida State Fair and Florida Strawberry Festival.

"The most important thing is the progress we are making in this community," Freedman said.

But she also noted that two black members in the Krewe are not enough. "We are trying to create a more inclusive celebration," she said.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Phyllis Busansky said "it'd never even occurred to me" to ask the Krewe to admit women.

"That's how far down it is on my list of priorities," she said. "There are a lot more important things than joining the Krewe."

Others disagreed Tuesday, saying that until the Krewe opens its doors to everyone, the parade will not be a true community event.

"For the long term, the group ought to admit women," said Commissioner Pam Iorio.

Henry Carley, president of the NAACP, said he wants to make sure the parade and festival are as multicultural as Bamboleo, this year's Gasparilla replacement parade.

"I don't think the community will settle for anything less," Carley said.

Levy said the criticism is unfair.

"They are being attacked because they are a visible group," Levy said, noting that other male social groups have not been asked to admit women. Levy, a Krewe member, said the group is a social organization, not a business group.

"There are lots of women's social groups I can't join," he said.

NOW's Waldron said that opening the Krewe is an important symbolic step for equal rights for women in Tampa.

"We want so much more than to join the Krewe," she said.