he colorful celebration of LGBTQ pride in Ybor City drew thousands from around the Tampa Bay region and beyond Saturday.
Marylin Squire, 19, and Joselyn Bushnell, 17, drove an hour and half from Citrus Springs in a Honda Civic to cheer on the floats and catch beads.
"I really wanted to be here because of the numbers," Squire said while twirling her short, curly bleach-blonde hair. "It's amazing to see so many people around you who are so accepting and supportive."
Bushnell said she came for a slightly different reason.
"I came to show off my girlfriend," she said, gesturing to Squire.
Many who attended waved rainbow flags and hopped bar to bar with friends. Some reflected on their struggle to get others to accept their sexuality.
It wasn't that long ago when Hillsborough County banned gay pride parades, and Bo Barnett, 52, has made it a point to come out to each one of the four held in Ybor since the prohibition was lifted.
"I remember the prides before Ronda Storms," Barnett said while standing on the parade route near N 17th Street.
Storms, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and state senator, pushed for an ordinance that prevented the county from recognizing gay pride.
Barnett, who's lived in Tampa for 20 years, said he attended parades in St. Petersburg during the ban. It was a shameful part of the area's history, he said. Looking at the parade now, he said he is overwhelmed by what he sees.
"I never, as a younger gay boy from a small town, thought I could find so many great friends or find myself living a life this fabulous," he said.
Closer to the start of the parade stood Ben Woodard, 61, a retired Polk County teacher. Last year he participated in the parade by throwing beads with his church group. This year, he caught so many that the colorful plastic stacked up to his chin.
Woodard said he attended pride parades years before he came out as gay on Facebook.
"It was right after the Pulse nightclub shooting," he said. "I just realized it was more than past time I let everyone know."
He said the people who come to the parades are like family.
"It feels refreshing," he said. "To be out here with so many who are open about it. Most of our lives we've had to hide it."
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn led the parade on foot, tossing colorful beads to the crowds. By the end of the parade, beads could be seen everywhere, including around the necks of a few dogs.
A 9-year-old English bulldog named Apollo had several colorful beads around his neck.
Apollo's owner, Jenna Sloan, a bartender at Bad Monkey, said Apollo liked to be around people but didn't much care for wheels.
"Anything with a wheel he barks at," said Sloan, 33. "He just wants to chase it down and pop it."
Army veteran Kathryn Sikorski, 39, also brought her dog Hershey, a tall chocolate Labrador.
Even though she's lived not too far from the parade route since 2009, this was Sikorski's first time attending.
"I'm not gay," she said. "I didn't know I could participate."
Contact Jonathan Capriel at (813) 225-3141 or email@example.com. Follow @jonathancapriel.