ST. PETERSBURG — The first St. Pete Pride Parade had an unenthusiastic mayor who refused to acknowledge it and support from only one City Council member on an official proclamation. But it came together successfully with a turnout of about 10,000.
For its 20th anniversary this weekend, St. Pete Pride wraps up a month of star-studded activities and expects Saturday’s parade to top its 2019 draw of 260,000 attendees, which made it the 13th largest Pride event in the nation. It will crack the top 10 this year if it draws more than 310,000 people.
“The way hotel rooms are building, and the website visits, I think we have a good chance,” said Tiffany Freisberg, president of St. Pete Pride.
In addition to pent-up demand caused by the pandemic, Florida has made a lot of news in the LGBTQ+ community this year. The state passed legislation prohibiting instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, dubbed the “Don’t say gay” bill by opponents. And Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration recently asked the Florida Board of Medicine to create policies that could ban or restrict transition-related care for transgender youth.
Freisberg said this news made it easier for organizers to bring in artists like Carson Kressley of “Queer Eye,” comedian Sandra Bernhard and the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who will play a pre-parade concert on Friday with Todrick Hall of “American Idol” and “Masked Singer” fame. Florida was of particular interest for these artists who wanted to celebrate Pride, she said.
“I’m not ready to say thank you to the legislators and governor, but I’m grateful to the artists for using their platform,” Freisberg said.
A Trans Pride March of family members, allies and transgender people will start things off Saturday at Albert Whitted Park, then walk back toward the main parade’s start at Vinoy Park and lead it out. It’s a kickoff meant “to really shine a light on the trans community,” Freisberg said.
The St. Pete Pier, which hadn’t opened yet when the Pride Parade was last held in 2019, will have a large screen set up on the lawn so people can sit and watch the parade from there, a boon for those who can’t stand for long periods of time.
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Also new is a “She/They Dance Party” for anyone who identifies as female or nonbinary, with female DJs in South Straub Park from 7 to 10 p.m. after the parade.
The parade is starting earlier than usual, at 2 p.m., because it has grown to more than 175 units, the largest parade ever. Organizers expect it to last about four hours. This will be the first year the St. Pete Pride organization will have its own Gasparilla-style float.
Pride weekend will wrap up Sunday with a street fair and carnival in the city’s Grand Central District, where it all began. Running from 22nd to 31st streets, Central Avenue will have roaming street performers and interactive carnival games, and costumes are encouraged to create a Brazilian-style street carnival atmosphere.