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Tampa Pride grows each year, despite a pause in the middle

As Tampa gets ready to celebrate another year of Pride, it's fair to say the area's history is complicated. For years, Hillsborough County had a law banning the government from acknowledging, promoting or participating in LGBTQ Pride recognition or events.

Yet Pride supporters persisted.

It took eight years before the County Commission, which by then counted openly gay Kevin Beckner as a member, voted unanimously to repeal the ban in 2013.

This year marks the fifth year of the Tampa Pride Diversity Festival and Parade, and the growth is exponential and expected to set records.

After a bruising battle to get Tampa Pride recognition, president and founder Carrie West anticipated a turnout of maybe 10,000 to 15,000 people when the parade returned in 2015. But when some 25,000 turned up, "I burst into tears."

Last year drew about 40,000, he said, and organizers estimate 45,000 to 50,000 will arrive Saturday. According to West, Tampa is on its way to reclaiming the crown as one of the biggest Pride demonstrations in the state.

A big part of the parade this year, West said, are community tributes to acknowledge how it got here. That includes appearances from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who embraced the event each year and walked the parade tossing beads, to current mayoral candidates. Jane Castor is a past grand marshal of the parade, and David Straz is a longtime supporter who is sponsoring one of the high school bands in the parade.

Multiple grand marshals include drag entertainer Amy DeMilo, community activists Nicholas Staszak and Tyler Reed, City Side Lounge owner Jim Encke and "Battle of the Houses" winner Ja'Sraria Infiniti. Representing the Tampa Bay Pride Band is artistic director David Triplett-Rosa.

Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank will be recognized as a community supporter for her work in 2015. That year, she performed mass marriages in a city park when gay marriage became legal.

First responders to the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016 will appear at the front of the parade, as will a 100-foot rainbow flag.

In 1982, Tampa's first Pride parade was held at the University of South Florida. It was a low-key affair with softball games and a barbecue. The annual gathering grew and became PrideFest. It featured a parade, parties, a business expo and celebrity guests.

By 2000, organizers claimed it as the largest gay Pride event in Florida, and the second largest in the Southeast. But a failed move to Raymond James Stadium in 2002 left the organization deeply in debt and divided.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms objected to a display of gay-themed books in a county library during Pride month in 2005. On June 15 that year, Storms motioned the county government should "abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay Pride recognition and events, little g, little p." It passed 5-1.

The ban was difficult to repeal because it required a 5-2 supermajority vote to rescind. However, eight years later, the commission voted unanimously to repeal the ban.

Each year seems to bring a more open generation, said Chou Chou Guilder, 38, general manager of LGBTQ club Southern Nights, who has worked there for 15 years.

According to Guilder, the Pulse shooting sent a chill through the LGBTQ club scene in Ybor City, prompting clubs to post armed guards and extra security. But that has mostly relaxed now, she said, and she rarely needs to step up security anymore, with the exception of crowd control.

"I definitely see a more open attitude," Guilder said. One day, she added, "everyone will get along and hold hands."

PARADE

An expo with food trucks and art vendors takes place from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Saturday in the Hillsborough Community College parking lot. A performance by the Gay Men's Chorus of Tampa Bay is at 11 a.m. The 1 p.m. parade goes down at Seventh Avenue and Nuccio Parkway, followed by a performers' showcase from 2 to 5:30 p.m.

PARTIES

Girl Pride Tampa: A Tampa Pride bash featuring the "Sexy Spinster" and DJ Shannon C, Dirty Dolls Burlesque Show and live music by the Cheaters. $15-$20. 1 p.m. Saturday. Crowbar, 1812 N 17th St.

Tampa Pride Balcony Party: Overlooking the parade, this balcony get-together includes a cash bar, DJ dancing and a postparade soiree. Benefits Balance Tampa Bay. Noon Saturday. The Honey Pot, 1507 E Seventh Ave. $19-$25. (813) 247-4663. btb.ticketleap.com.

Bradley's Pride Party: The neighborhood bar opens at 10 a.m. for a preparade party with good viewing spots on the patio, starting at noon. After the parade, there are drag shows at 11:30 p.m. and 1:15 a.m., spotlighting Pheyonce Montrese, host Kori Stevens and Felicity Lane. Bradley's, 1510 E Seventh Ave. No cover.

Tea Dance: Water Street launches the new Tea Dance, which it hopes will become a tradition for the day after Pride. Expect live entertainment and a sendoff to the Melissa Etheridge Cruise at the port. 1-6 p.m. Sunday. Sparkman Wharf, 615 Channelside Drive.

City Side Pride: Shows by Conundrum, Te' Money and Miss Manny start at 10 p.m. Saturday. City Side Lounge, 3703 Henderson Blvd.

Tampa Pride 'Out and Proud Party: Joe Whitaker hosts. 8 p.m. Saturday. Cristoph's, 2606 N Armenia Ave. $8 and up.

QueerGirl Tampa Bay Pride Party: DJ Nela headlines with DJ Baritone. 4-10 p.m. Sunday. Coyote Ugly Saloon, 1722 E Seventh Ave. $15.

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