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Democrats hope to seize on anti-Trump energy at St. Pete Pride

Organizers hope to channel anti-Trump energy into issue based advocacy at Florida's biggest LGBTQ rights celebration.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   Times
Mayor Rick Kriseman prepares to raise to the LGBTQ flag at city hall in St. Petersburg, June 21, 2018.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times Mayor Rick Kriseman prepares to raise to the LGBTQ flag at city hall in St. Petersburg, June 21, 2018.
Published Jun. 22, 2018|Updated Jun. 22, 2018

To Florida Democrats, the state's largest LGBTQ Pride celebration is more than a celebration. It's a chance to mobilize.

Dozens of progressive organizers will descend on St. Pete Pride this weekend to promote liberal causes and candidates to the event's 200,000 overwhelmingly left-leaning attendees.

"Pride was founded as a political movement, so it is certainly fun, but the activism is not lost on the LGBT community," Juan Peñalosa, executive director for the Florida Democrats Party, said.

The presidency of Donald Trump has fired up the Democratic base, Peñalosa said, and the progressive organizers want to channel that energy into issue-based advocacy.

Among the groups mobilizing for the event:

  • NextGen America, the progressive group funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, is sending a few dozen staffers, fellows and organizers to register and mobilize young voters, the organization’s Carly Cass told the Times. 
  • Equality Florida, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups, will have one hundred canvassers registering voters at what it called “the best opportunity this cycle to engage and mobilize pro-equality voters” in a release.
  • Pinellas Democrats will have upwards of 50 volunteers registering voters and canvassing, and they’ll raise money with a beverage cart where patrons can buy beer to support the party’s local efforts, Pinellas County Democratic Party Chair Susan McGrath said. The state party is also sending a handful of staffers and a few dozen of its own staffers to help with voter outreach, Peñalosa said.

When it comes to voter registration, such outreach efforts pay dividends. In 2017, the single largest spike in Pinellas voter registration came in June, the month of St. Pete Pride, a Times analysis showed. (Of course, correlation isn't causation. In 2016, a year McGrath said organizers registered about 1400 voters at Pride — the majority of whom were presumably Democrats — the party lost almost 600 voters.)

Candidates for statewide office also hope to get their names out at the festival. Four of the five Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls will have a presence at St. Pete Pride: Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine will have about 50 staff and volunteers there; Former Congresswoman Gwen and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's campaign will also send volunteers; and Orlando-area businessman Chris King will attend the parade Saturday.

Other candidates — including south Florida real estate mogul Jeff Greene — planned to attend the parade, but had to cancel because they'll be marching at an immigration compound in south Florida to protest the policies of President Trump. The conflict raises questions about Democrats' ability to run on an issue like LGBTQ rights during a cycle sure to be dominated by guns, immigration and health care.

But McGrath, herself an LGBTQ activist and a member of the community, said voters don't have to pick between progressive causes come November.

"If you look at the messaging of all of the issues, whether it's common sense gun safety, whether it's access to affordable health care, whether it's living wages, whether it's comprehensive immigration reform, all of those issues make up a bigger narrative," McGrath said. "We don't encourage people to vote on a single issue."

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