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'A place for everybody to feel happy': Thousands show for Tampa Pride parade

Stephanie Miranda holds up a giant LGBT rainbow flag during the Tampa Pride Diversity parade in Ybor City Saturday in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
Stephanie Miranda holds up a giant LGBT rainbow flag during the Tampa Pride Diversity parade in Ybor City Saturday in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Apr. 1, 2019

YBOR CITY — Wendell Wilson sat on a bench across from The Orpheum Saturday afternoon, wearing a black baseball cap and white T-shirt, bubble wand in hand.

The 61-year-old computer engineer from St. Petersburg was late to the Tampa 2019 Diversity Pride Parade but already had several beaded necklaces around his neck. He planned to meet up with friends later, but wanted to get comfortable on the edge of the action before braving the raucous sidewalks by 7th Avenue's loudest clubs.

Still, holding the parade in the middle of Tampa felt right, Wilson said.

"Have it right in broad daylight, in front of everybody," he said.

Wilson is gay and out to his family, friends and coworkers. "It's very comfortable, and I like it," he said, "and that's the way it should be."

But even the parade itself wasn't accepted as recently as this decade. For eight years, Hillsborough County banned the city from acknowledging, promoting or participating in LGBTQ Pride recognition or events.

"They put a kibosh on it, which was so dumb," Wilson said.

The ban ended in 2013; this was the parade's fifth year back. Marching bands and DJs blasted music from Camila Cabello and City Girls. Attendees danced on railings, posed for pictures and snatched beads out of the air.

Mayoral candidates Jane Castor and David Straz traveled the parade route — waving, tossing beads and taking selfies. If Castor is elected in the city's April 23 runoff election, she would become the city's first openly gay mayor.

Official crowd counts weren't available early Saturday evening, but organizers had prepared for 45,000 to 50,000 people, up from about 40,000 in 2018.

Above all, attendees said, they simply wanted to have fun.

"The world is so sad," said Zaira Alvarez, 18, who was draped in a full-size rainbow flag. "It's just a place for everybody to feel happy."

Alvarez's friend, Megan Quinones, 20, was attending for the first time. She assumed it would be like the Gasparilla parade. But people at Pride were much more friendly, she said.

Bridgett Smart, 55 and from Tampa, called it the best Pride parade she had attended.

"More people are into it," she said.

Chastity Martin, who had been to Pride parades in St. Petersburg and Orlando, felt Tampa's was more racially diverse than the others. "This feels more authentic," she said.

Wilson, who is black, said he still felt attending LGBTQ events held a stigma among black communities. But he could see that changing around him. Compared to the similar events he attended a decade ago, these days, "there are definitely more black people."

Compared to Gasparilla, he thought, Pride was more representative of Tampa.

He pointed at a passing float. "With groups like this, you can see the diversity in the crowd."

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Staff writers Monique Welch and Charlie Frago contributed reporting. Contact Langston Taylor at ltaylor@tampabay.com