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Tampa Pride is one of first LGBTQ celebrations in pandemic era

The event marked both a return to normal and a time to reflect on the past year’s political climate.
Sarah Otten, 25, Hannah Cone, 23, of Interlachen, Chance baker, 23, and Matthew Register, 32, of St. Augustine, take a selfie together at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Sarah Otten, 25, Hannah Cone, 23, of Interlachen, Chance baker, 23, and Matthew Register, 32, of St. Augustine, take a selfie together at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 22
Updated May 22

As the 14-month-long pandemic canceled events and festivals last year and postponed Tampa Pride three times, people gathered in Ybor City Saturday for a long overdue celebration.

People gather Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
People gather Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Tampa Pride was one of the first Pride events to take place so far this year, and the event came in the midst of a year of legislation targeting LGBTQ people, particularly transgender youth. For attendees, the event was both a celebration of community after a year of isolation in quarantine, as well as a time to reflect on activism.

Related: DeSantis says he will sign Florida transgender sports bill

“It feels really good to be in a safe space, especially during Pride,” said Samantha Heydt, 24, who was wearing a rainbow flower crown and a rainbow flag wrapped around her like a skirt.

Heydt originally met her girlfriend on the dating app Hinge. On Saturday, they attended Tampa Pride together, about six months after they started dating.

Pride commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a turning point in the national movement for LGBTQ+ rights. A police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, sparked nearly a week of protests against police violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

Renee Brown, 29, of St. Petersburg, fans herself at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Renee Brown, 29, of St. Petersburg, fans herself at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

For many years, Hillsborough County’s policy was to “abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in Gay Pride recognition and events.” The first Pride Diversity Festival was not held in Tampa until 2015.

“We took so many steps back with the last presidency to now,” Heydt said. “It feels good to be on the right side of things and I think we’re making improvements but not enough.”

The festival kicked off at 11 a.m. in Ybor City with vendors at E Ninth Avenue at N 13th through 15th streets and in the Hillsborough Community College parking lot. A parade was scheduled in the afternoon, followed by a concert at the Cuban Club in the evening. Carrie West, president of Tampa Pride, told the Tampa Bay Times he expected about 40,000 people to attend the event, slightly less than the number of people who attended the 2019 celebration.

Vendors sold everything from empanadas to fans. Members of Equality Florida invited people to sign a petition, urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that would bar transgender girls and women from public school sports. Pride attendees could get Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson vaccines at another tent.

David Carter, 36, of Tampa, laughs at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
David Carter, 36, of Tampa, laughs at Tampa Pride 2021 Street Festival in Ybor City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Last year, Calvin James, 20, of Temple Terrace just stayed home during Pride month because so many events were canceled.

“It was boring,” he said. This year’s Pride event made him feel like things were starting to go back to normal.

Wearing a mask and a Trans Pride shirt, Melody Grace of Tampa, was attending Pride for the first time. The 19-year-old said she was happy with the precautions people were taking at the event.

Related: As Florida lawmakers took aim at transgender athletes, old wounds reopened

“I feel like it’s a great step forward,” she said. “You’ll see people out here with masks and some people who are vaxxed who aren’t wearing them.”

Mark Moffitt, 44, and his partner Luke Pettitt, 39, have both been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and attended Tampa Pride for the first time, having been to celebrations in Fort Lauderdale and Miami in previous years.

“You’re so used to wearing masks and so used to seeing everybody wearing them,” Moffitt said. “You kind of have to adjust back to a little bit more normal.”

For Moffit, Pride is not just a celebration — it’s also political. For many, it was also a somber reminder of the nearing five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

“It’d be nice if gay pride was just kind of a part of being who you are, but in this climate, it’s a statement,” he said. “It’s activism in and of itself.”

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne contributed to this report.