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Tampa Pride attracts thousands for colorful celebration in Ybor City

Thousands of people descended upon the historic district of Ybor City Saturday for a colorful celebration in support of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Some wore T-shirts with slogans like "I was lesbian before it was cool," and "50 shades of gay," while others wore rainbow colored everything, or close to nothing at all.

Some waved rainbow flags from the outdoor patios of businesses like Hamburger Mary's restaurant, which overlooked the pride parade that marched down Seventh Avenue — the main strip of Ybor's party district — to 20th Street. Others wore equality stickers and held banners saying "born this way."

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality parades happen across major cities around the country every year, but the Tampa Pride event on Saturday took place earlier than most, in an effort to set it apart from neighboring cities' events. Last year, Tampa Pride returned to Ybor City for the first time in 13 years after new organizers revived the annual event. It drew 20,000 people.

Saturday's crowds are likely to break last year's attendance record.

St. Petersburg's pride parade, which happens in June, is known as Florida's largest LGBT event. It draws more than 150,000 people each year. Orlando's pride event, which draws around 100,000, happens in the fall.

"I love the historical district backdrop to Tampa Pride. It's so much more lively than St. Pete," said Michael Marez, 19, from Tampa.

Topher and David Chandler, who were shirtless other than a few leather pieces strapped across their chests and wore heavy black boots, agreed. It was the first time the couple from Spring Hill had been spectators at a pride event. For years, they've always been on a float in the parades.

"We purposely attended this pride event just to be a spectator and enjoy the camaraderie," Topher Chandler said. "We love to see it starting to grow."

As someone who has attended both Tampa and St. Pete pride events, Topher Chandler said he enjoys the Tampa event more than St. Pete's because the location was central to other amenities.

"Tampa Pride is great because you can get a hotel right here and still be able to bar hop," he said. "This way you can have fun but be safe."

Angela Rudisill of Tampa got to Tampa Pride early to set up a shady spot with a good view of the parade. Adorned head to toe in rainbow-colored clothes — from poofy stockings to a wig to glittery eye shadow — she was there to support some of her family members who identify as gay. She had her young children with her, including a daughter who sported a rainbow-colored tutu.

"It's important to show support," she said.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn lead the parade on foot, tossing colorful beads to attendees while sporting a "Go Hillary" campaign sticker. Several local political figures followed him.

A cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama taped to the back of a pickup drew a lot of applause. Following the truck were political supporters of Democratic candidates who waved signs in support of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Local employers, from T-Mobile to the United Services Automobile Association, had employees wear Pride-themed T-shirts and hand out beads.

Drag queens danced from floats designed to mimic pirate ships. Shirtless men danced from other floats. One shirtless man wearing a kilt and walking in the parade paused to dance with a Tampa police officer who was monitoring the crowds.

Few seemed to notice the small gaggle of protesters who held signs that said "Jesus died for you" and "Jesus = Life." Their words, shouted by megaphone, were drowned out by cheers and dance music.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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