Attendance soars at St. Pete Pride’s family day, with more security

The third annual family event surpassed previous years’ attendance.
Miss St. Pete Pride Ceazia Giovanni Kreshé performs with a group of kids during the LGBTQ+ Youth Pride and Family Day on Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Miss St. Pete Pride Ceazia Giovanni Kreshé performs with a group of kids during the LGBTQ+ Youth Pride and Family Day on Saturday in St. Petersburg. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]
Published June 10|Updated June 11

ST. PETERSBURG — Ten-year-old Matai was front and center watching Miss St. Pete Pride Ceazia Giovanni Kreshé perform in a snakeskin getup to Katy Perry’s song “Roar.”

Matai is not only a regular at drag shows, but he’s starred in them as a “little drag queen.” Back in his native New Jersey, Matai was invited on stage by Shuga Cain, a drag queen who competed on the reality television series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

“I love it. I just love drag in general. Anything drag,” he said, scrolling past screenshots of sparkly heeled boots on his phone to pull up a photo of his Halloween costume as Erika Klash from “Dragula,” a drag competition TV show. “I’m all over it, the entertainers, how hard they work, how welcoming they are.”

Matai came with an aunt, from Bradenton, and his grandmother to St. Pete Pride’s Youth Pride and Family Day on Saturday at North Straub Park. The third annual event returned this year with increased security and privacy measures, more vendors and more attendees, organizers said.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people in the park all at once,” said St. Pete Pride executive director Nicole Berman. “The support feels so loud, which is so important for the season.”

Kreshé, the drag queen, felt the same. “You could tell the togetherness, the big family aspect of it,” she said.

Berman said St. Petersburg police this year wrapped the surrounding chain-link fence with black fabric to give families safety and privacy from anyone who could take photos to misconstrue events. She said police also swept every vendor vehicle in the park and worked with the FBI to deter any threats.

St. Pete Pride is Florida’s largest celebration, with events held throughout the month of June, which is Pride month. After retaining lawyers and meeting with police, the organization did not change any of its programming in light of new state laws that prohibit drag shows with “lewd” performances in front of children.

Berman said she received emails from people asking questions about safety and if the event was still on.

“If you are not sure what a Pride event is, what it looks like, if you are concerned, come check it out,” Berman said. “This is an opportunity for those to come and see that.”

Related: Tampa, St. Petersburg Pride flags rise as mayors welcome celebrations

Kids of all ages frolicked in foamy bubbles and collected free merchandise from vendors. Many adults wore colorful shirts that read “Don’t say DeSantis,” “Say gay” and “Not a phase.”

Anthony Wright, 36, of Apollo Beach said he and his husband, Antonio Wright, brought their 5-year-old and 2-year-old to show them what support looks like and how the queer community is represented.

“At this point it’s criminalized for God’s sake,” Wright said. “It makes you question whether or not you want to be in the state.”

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After Kreshé finished performing, Mr. St. Pete Pride, Vyn Suazion, led the crowd in a chant: “Drag is not a crime.” Suazion, who is a trans man, then read a book gifted to him called “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall. It’s about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as “red” and the courage to be your inner self.

“It gave me the confidence and faith in my community,” Suazion said. “If the governor can’t provide that, I sure as hell can.”

Jay, an 8-year-old trans boy, listened to the story with big sister Sophia, 10, and their parents. The family, from New Tampa, found out about Saturday’s event from a trans parent support group.

“I think that people who are saying that we’re going to hell are wrong,” Jay said.