ST. PETERSBURG — Nathan Bruemmer remembers his first Pride parade in the late 1990s. He hadn't yet come out as transgender.
The vocabulary to describe his gender identity didn't exist in everyday language, he said. Still, he remembers how it felt to be surrounded by a group of queer people in Tampa who loved and supported him. It was like magic.
Now at 42, Bruemmer is on the board of directors of St. Pete Pride, the state's biggest Pride celebration. While he's been to several Pride parades beyond Tampa Bay in the last two decades, he said this year feels different.
"In some ways, this is like a first all over again," he said.
Bruemmer will walk in his first ever TransPride March on Saturday. He is the only transgender member of the board and led the effort to organize the event, the first trans-focused event in the 15-year history of St. Pete Pride.
He said St. Pete Pride's decision to hold the march an hour before the main parade starts is also a first for any major Pride market in the United States.
Usually, transgender marches are held on separate days, isolated from the main Pride event.
"It's the silent 't'," Bruemmer said, referring to the LGBT acronym. "The trans community has long said they feel marginalized."
Pride events started as protests, but in recent years St. Pete Pride has become a cathartic event for the gay community. In 2015 it was a time to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage the day before the parade. In 2016 it was a time to mourn the 49 people killed and 58 wounded in the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack, which took place just two weeks before the parade.
Bruemmer, who lives in Gulfport and recently graduated from Stetson University College of Law, wants this year's event to focus on the transgender community.
Trans youth continue to kill themselves at higher rates than their peers, studies show, and laws have been introduced in states across the country aimed at the transgender community.
North Carolina's controversial "bathroom bill" and other measures would require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates and overrule local attempts to ban discrimination against them.
Critics say such measures undermine the rights and safety of transgender people.
"There are so many marginalized groups within the LGBT community, it's hard to advocate for all of them, it's hard to elevate their needs," Bruemmer said. "I think this year in the country, at least in our community and as an organization, we need to elevate trans voices. It's overdue."
Among the flashing lights, sparkles and never-ending supply of beads on Saturday night, there will be a float absent of anything gaudy. It won't have any music, but it will list the names of LGBT people who were killed in the Pulse attack, the UpStairs Lounge arson attack in New Orleans in 1973 — and for being transgender.
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"What's astonishing is that there's 228 names and over half of them are in the trans community," said Pride executive director Eric Skains. A large number are also trans women of color. He added:
"It's not just about recognizing certain aspects, it's about recognizing everything that's happening in the LGBT community."
The TransPride March will start at 6 p.m. at Albert Whitted Airport and head north on Bayshore Drive NE to where the floats will be waiting to start the rest of the parade around 7 p.m. The parade will then march south on Bayshore Drive back to Albert Whitted.
This is also the first year St. Pete Pride will march along the waterfront, rather than its long-time home in the Grand Central District, surrounded by gay-owned businesses.
Tracy Asalita, owner of The Queens Head bar and restaurant, is still struggling with the move. She said she and the other Grand Central mainstays think the route should have stayed put. Instead, their neighborhoods will host Sunday's street festival. Pride is the reason The Queens Head opened on Central Avenue's 2500 block eight years ago, she said.
But Asalita is glad St. Petersburg is making a statement by having the trans march kick off the parade Saturday. "I'm happy the parade is being inclusive," she said. "The trans community is our community. I never saw it as separate."
Pride marches and parades were born from the Stonewall riots in New York City, which were sparked by a police raid of a gay bar, Stonewall Inn, on June 28, 1969. Pride marches continued annually as part of the gay rights movement.
"It's about being visible, about being out there," Bruemmer said, adding that one of the riots' leaders was a trans woman of color. "It's a time to walk away from shame and be proud of your identity."
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com or 727-893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.