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  1. Entertainment

From 'Queer Eye' to 'RuPaul's,' Carson Kressley used entertainment as path to equality

Carson Kressley is no stranger to Tampa.

He has hosted the Fashion Funds a Cure benefit for kids with cancer and attended Gasparilla events. Now, he's back to celebrate Tampa Pride.

"I love Tampa, especially the International mall because we don't have Ballard stores in the Northeast," Kressley said. "That's where I like to find accessories to give your home a little zhush with a new lampshade or chair or bedding."

The style god of the original Queer Eye is not part of the official Tampa Pride Diversity Festival and Parade. But the Emmy-winning television personality and fashion guru will be the celebrity host of one of its most fun parties, the drag show at Southern Nights in Ybor City, the bar that regularly welcomes stars from RuPaul's Drag Race as entertainment.

This week is no different as drag performers including RuPaul's vets Roxxxy Andrews and Jade Embers, along with local talent, will put on three shows Saturday. And drag performers will ride the club's Gaybor float in Tampa's fifth Pride parade at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Kressley, who will meet and greet fans at the club and MC the drag show, takes pride in his part to help move television and the mainstream culture into a more accepting era. He and the rest of the Fab Five on Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were a big hit from 2003-2007.

The show and its stars continue to stay relevant. Kressley is a judge on VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race and he offers interior design advice with Thom Filicia, his fellow Fab Fiver, on the new design show Get a Room on Bravo. Filicia is also a Tampa figure now. He has been hired to design several areas in the mixed-use tower in Tampa's 50-plus story Riverwalk Place, including condominium floor plans and the social "Sky Lobby" on the 20th floor overlooking the bay.

The common thread of all his shows, Kressley said, is putting a human face on the LGBTQ community.

And Queer Eye has enjoyed a successful reboot on Netflix with a new Fab Five, now in its third season.

"We never had any intentions that way, but there was something subversive about Queer Eye," Kressley said in a phone interview from his farm in Pennsylvania, where he raises world champion Saddlebred horses. "In a very nonthreatening way, we were coming into people's homes and people were disarmed by us and our humor.

"They said, 'Wow these guys seem great, why shouldn't they have the same rights as us? Why shouldn't they adopt a child? Why shouldn't they get married?' So people get to know you for the person you are and not the labels. Ultimately that is the path to equality."

Similarly, RuPaul's Drag Race, which swept the reality show competition at the Emmys this year, is in its 11th season. Kressley, who has been a judge on the show since Season 7, noted it has taken what had been a fringe element of the LGBTQ scene and become one of the most culturally influential shows on television. And not for nothing, Kressley noted, it's one of the most consistently racially diverse.

"It's been embraced by so many people all over the world, and I think it shows the culture has caught up," he said. "We are much more interested in diversity and celebrating people who follow their own truth of who they are meant to be."

Ever a style icon, he's often the voice of finding fashion on a budget in his makeover shows. We had to ask the former Ralph Lauren stylist for advice on essentials.

"I'm on cable so I'm not out buying Faberge eggs," he said. To save money with style, he said, the rules are the same for the way you dress as they are for home decorating. Invest in some core quality pieces: great-fitting jeans, good shoes and belts, a nicely made jacket, and at home, a quality sofa or a great table. Then dress it up with eye-catching accessories that can be found in bargain bins and vintage stores.

This is his first Pride weekend in Tampa and he said it brings back memories of his first Pride parade "many moons ago" in New York City.

"I just remember seeing thousands and thousands of people not only taking part but also people who lined the street showing love and support. That was really meaningful," Kressley said. "Even through we've made great strides, I think it's still important to remember where we came from, to celebrate some of our heroes, and to remind young people we didn't always have this much freedom and equality."

If you go

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Kressley serves as special guest for the Southern Nights 18 and older only Tampa Pride party from 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday. With drag by Jade Embers, Roxxxy Andrews and local talent at 3:30 and 11:15 p.m. and 1 a.m. Free admission, $5 after 9 p.m. 1401 E Seventh Ave., Tampa.

Tampa Pride Diversity Festival and Parade: The fifth annual festival Saturday is led by four grand marshals and features an expo with food trucks and art vendors (10 a.m.-5:15 p.m. in HCC parking lot), a performance by the Tampa Bay Gay Men's Chorus (11 a.m.), a community tribute (12:30 p.m.), parade (1 p.m. on Seventh Avenue) and a performers' showcase (2-5:30 p.m.) Saturday. Historic Ybor, Seventh Avenue and Nuccio, Tampa. Free.