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How St. Petersburg is spreading LGBTQ+ allyship through love letters

A Pride Month campaign has people leaving messages for LGBTQ+ community members around town.
 
The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Metro Inclusive Health on Monday in St. Petersburg. In honor of Pride month, the city of St. Petersburg is encouraging residents and visitors to express love and support for the LGBTQ+ community by sharing kind messages at local businesses and organizations.
The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Metro Inclusive Health on Monday in St. Petersburg. In honor of Pride month, the city of St. Petersburg is encouraging residents and visitors to express love and support for the LGBTQ+ community by sharing kind messages at local businesses and organizations. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published June 13, 2023|Updated June 13, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — At Tombolo Books, a sign on the door beckons customers inside to see a Pride Month campaign called Letters of Love. Its colorful display waits on the other side of the storefront window, featuring rainbow envelopes with handwritten notes peeking out of them.

Throughout June, people in the city are encouraged to take messages that resonate with them and leave behind ones to share with LGBTQ+ community members. These can range from words of support to personal stories. But, really, anything goes.

“You are enough. Live for love. If they can’t accept you, that’s their issue. Not yours. Be free. Be you,” reads one of the notes at the bookstore.

The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books, at 2153 First Ave. S, on Monday in St. Petersburg.
The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books, at 2153 First Ave. S, on Monday in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Nine letter pop-up stations sit at local businesses and organizations, including the St. Pete Center for Health Equity and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. Letters can also be submitted virtually and shared on social media.

The campaign, which took place only at City Hall last year, was expanded both to celebrate the 21st anniversary of St. Pete Pride and to honor the LGBTQ+ community in light of recent statewide legislation, according to the city’s LGBTQ+ Liaison Jim Nixon.

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bills that run the gamut from banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity up until eighth grade in public schools to restricting gender-affirming care.

During the city’s upcoming Pride Parade on June 24, Nixon said attendees will receive the letters that have been created.

The city is partnering with local businesses and organizations to create pop-up stations where visitors can create and leave a letter, and take a letter that speaks to them. Take a card. Grab a pen. Write your message. Add it to the wall.
The city is partnering with local businesses and organizations to create pop-up stations where visitors can create and leave a letter, and take a letter that speaks to them. Take a card. Grab a pen. Write your message. Add it to the wall. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books.
The Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

It’s clear that the notes are being written by people of varying ages and artistic abilities. A stick figure surrounded by puffy hearts, Nintendo’s Kirby shouting out “gay rights” and a dragon carrying the pride flag with its tail make up some of the more creative ones at Daddies Donuts and Delites on Central Avenue.

There have been so many notes at the downtown doughnut and ice cream spot that employees have to keep swapping out which ones get featured.

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Gionte Sandifer, 18, is from St. Pete and works at the shop. He was one of the first to write a letter at Daddies, just hoping to get the ball rolling. By his next shift, he said every slot was full.

Sandifer said that, given the current cultural climate surrounding topics involving the LGBTQ+ community, it’s all the more important to spread positivity to members. While he feels St. Pete as a city is fairly supportive, he recognizes this isn’t universal.

A sign on the door lets patrons know about the Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books.
A sign on the door lets patrons know about the Letters of Love Pop-Up Station on display at Tombolo Books. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

One letter at Daddies hit back against a bill punishing people that allow children into adult performances, which has been said to directly target drag shows. It read, “Love drag shows! Long live drag in Florida!”

This kind of community engagement doesn’t shock Nixon.

“I’m not overly surprised by the activation and number of people participating, because it is who we are. We are St. Pete,” he said.

For those looking to show their support by way of heartfelt, funny or uplifting message, visit the city of St. Pete’s website for a full list of locations where letters can be written.