TAMPA — If only for a day, Alyssa Alexander said it felt like no one was trying to rain on her parade.
From rainbow and pastel capes to a shirt that said “Free Dad Hugs,” amid a sea of thousands on a sunny Saturday in Ybor, the 21-year-old Tampa resident said it felt like it was impossible not to have a good time at the Tampa Pride festival and parade, where thousands found a respite from a political climate that has caused grave concerns surrounding LGBTQ issues.
“It’s good to be here,” Alexander said. “It feels like a safe space.”
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis made a proclamation about a transgender swimmer and he signed a bill last year barring transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. And just weeks before, a controversial bill — known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to critics and “Parental Rights in Education” to supporters — passed in the state Legislature. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill that would prohibit classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity for grades K-3 “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Critics have pointed to the dangers of further marginalizing LGBTQ families.
Joann Rios, 47, who attended the parade with her wife and kids, wore a shirt that said “Florida repeat after me: Gay Gay Gay Gay Gay Gay.”
“I’m really not into politics, but this is unfair to our youth, especially when they are already being casted out,” she said.
She wondered if the bill will make her kids feel uncomfortable talking about their two moms at school.
“To them, this is normal,” she said. “This is their life. They should be able to talk about their family.”
Tampa has celebrated Pride since 2015, with its first parade chief marshaled by now-mayor Jane Castor, the city’s first openly LGBT mayor. Castor was traveling to Israel on Saturday, but Tampa’s new police chief, Mary O’Connor, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and several City Council members marched in the parade along 7th Avenue.
Cast members from Tampa Baes, a reality show about a group of lesbian friends in the area, were on the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino float.
John Patterson, 53, donned a shirt saying “It’s OK to say gay.”
The recent climate for LGBTQ people in the state can be demoralizing, he said, but if anything it’s more reason to celebrate all parts of identity.
“You can’t let it get you down,” he said. “I love that we live in a world where we can do this now. Growing up as a boy, if I could have seen men like this out and happy it would have made the world of difference.”
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Tom Yarranton, 66, wore a small pin that said “Say Gay.”
Yarranton, who is on the board of GLSEN, a national organization that works to end discrimination and promote awareness on LGBTQ issues in the K-12 system, said he worries about the toll the political climate will have on kids.
“It makes kids feel like there’s something wrong with them,” he said. “It’s pretty sad that one portion of the state wants to make the other group feel less just because of who they are. We’re all equal in the eyes of God and the government.”
He said he’d prefer if the state government focused on insurance rates and infrastructure issues.
Jess Romero, 39, who attended with her wife, Naomi, and their 6-month-old baby, said she couldn’t stand to see the politics around LGBTQ issues in Florida. But Saturday’s ceremony gave her hope.
“Today is a representation of what the future is going to look like,” she said. “It’s inevitable. Acceptance is going to be the norm.”
Taryll Hall, 46, said she hoped people remember the bills did not have to impact their well-being.
“It’s 2022,” she said. “Show up and be you wherever you’re at, no matter what space you’re in.”
A festival of vendors flanked 9th Street, with rainbow-adorned booths ranging from Wawa and Tampa International Airport to Metro Inclusive Health, a nonprofit organization focused on health care access, including hormone replacement therapy and mental health services for LGBTQ youth and adults.
Tommy Miller, 43, who worked the booth, sighed.
“It’s a two steps forward, six steps back type of situation,” he said. “We just got to keep going forward.”