ST. PETERSBURG — Driving through the Deep South, Nicole Berman questioned her decision to take a new job as the executive director of St. Pete Pride.
What critics derided as the “don’t say gay” bill, which aims to limit gender identity discussion in schools, was working through the Florida Legislature as Berman moved across the country from Bellingham, Washington. She was chosen out of more than 100 applicants for the job because of her commitment to making Pride more inclusive for marginalized populations of the LGBTQ community.
On Wednesday morning, Berman joined St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, Ken Welch, to raise the Pride flag above City Hall. June marks the beginning of Pride month, and St. Petersburg hosts the largest Pride parade and festival in Florida.
With City Council members and state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg, by his side, Welch reflected on how far the city has come since its first Pride celebration in 2003. The city has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index, which rates cities based on their nondiscrimination laws, city services and programs, for eight consecutive years.
Welch vowed to fight discrimination “in every form” against the LGBTQ community.
“We cannot and we will not stand silent while our fundamental rights of freedom, choice and self-determination are stripped away by anyone or any organization including politicians in Washington and Tallahassee,” he said to cheers.
Around the same time across the bay, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who is openly gay, raised the LGBT flag along with Equality Florida and the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber. The City of Tampa, Old City Hall and the Tampa Riverwalk will also be lit up in rainbow colors at sunset. Tampa has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index for four years.
The City of Clearwater also raised a Pride flag in front of its Clearwater Municipal Services Building and is painting a community mural.
In St. Petersburg, Berman brought on new board members to begin planning new, inclusive events to welcome marginalized LGBTQ members, including those who are Black and transgender. One of those events is Shades of Pride, a Juneteenth celebration.
“It is truly radical to be in a place that truly embraces the queer community,” she said. “The community here, it’s not lip service. They really stand by our community. You can tell. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”