ST. PETERSBURG — There was consternation over what Pride celebrations would look like this year after new state laws targeting drag performances cast a pall on Pride.
But on the first day of Pride month, the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg were resolute about their cities being welcoming places for all. They raised rainbow flags over their respective city halls Thursday morning.
“We are standing together for progress and we are standing against ignorance and hatred,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, backed by the entire City Council, Treasure Island Mayor Tyler Payne and state Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg. “We will never give in nor give up on our work to build inclusive progress for all in this city.”
St. Petersburg touted its 10th year raising the Pride flag above City Hall and the 21st anniversary of St. Pete Pride, Florida’s largest Pride parade. There were no changes to any of the programming, including drag performances, throughout the month after event organizers hired lawyers and met with St. Petersburg Police.
St. Pete Pride Executive Director Nicole Berman said there are two to three events planned every week in June, beginning with a kickoff party Friday night. She encouraged those from cities where Pride events were canceled to attend.
“This year, the LGBTQIA community, my community, has faced countless cowardly attacks and attempts to silence our voices, restrict our rights and erase our presence,” Berman said. “Well, I hate to break it to anyone who thinks our community doesn’t belong in Florida. You can’t stop Pride. The LGBTQ community, we’re here, we are freaking fabulous and we are not going anywhere.”
In Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor, who is openly gay, stressed that LGBTQ+ individuals are a welcome part of the community. Tampa Pride announced last month that it would cancel its annual Pride on the River event because, “in the end, we didn’t want to take any chances,” said Tampa Pride president Carrie West.
“Many of you have heard me say the three words that are most often used to describe Tampa are friendly, welcoming and safe,” Castor said. “Those three words just fill my heart every time I hear them. We want to make sure that everyone, not just across the nation, but across the world, knows that Tampa is a very welcoming community.”
No public official in Tampa or St. Petersburg called out Gov. Ron DeSantis by name, but referenced the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. Laws restricting bathroom use for transgender people and medical treatment for transgender minors and imposing stiff penalties for venues that admit children into “sexual” performances were passed this year.
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“We’re not focused on the culture wars or other-isms,” Welch said. “We’re focused on moving our entire city forward. That’s what ‘We are St. Pete’ means and that’s what our community believes in. So we’re not being taken off focus by some of the ultra-partisan shenanigans that are happening in other parts of the state.”
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson said it was a “scary time” for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Several years ago, we approved additional protections that voters approved in the charter to protect people in the community,” he said. “At the time we did it, we said, ‘What happens if the state or federal government goes backward on it?’ And none of us thought it would actually happen, but it has.”