St. Pete Pride is fun -- for a cause

07/02/12 Janelle Irwin
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A sea of some 80,000 colorfully clad people descended on St. Petersburg this weekend for Florida’s largest gay pride event. Some wore elaborate rainbow wigs, others were topless and painted. Rachel King celebrated her 25th birthday at the St. Pete Pride Parade. She called it a celebration of acceptance.

“There’s all different organizations that are part of the parade. You see children, you see families. It’s great to see little kids being part of it because you see them growing up in it – growing up being accepted. It’s awesome. It’s costumes and feathers and sequins and colors and body paint – everything.”

The parade kicked started at nine in the morning on 3rd Avenue North and 31st Street near the popular LGBT hangout, Georgie’s Alibi. People swarmed the streets as they marched through the historic Kenwood neighborhood to Central Avenue. Chris Hart is a member of the Music City Sisters in Nashville and walked with people from the Tampa Bay chapter of that group. He wore a Speedo, about ten pounds of beads and had his face painted. It’s a look Hart said people can’t really pull off in very many other forums.

“Well it really gives an opportunity, one, for the community to come out in a very safe environment compared to what they might normally feel that they have and also, it also puts it out there in terms of the public to be able to see that the LGBT may not exactly be everything that they see on TV or the horrible horror stories that they hear about people and everything.”

This was the tenth year St. Pete has hosted a Pride Parade and each year it draws larger crowds. While most of the groups who participate are members of the LGBT community, others come in support. Jeb Yates teaches autistic children and he’s gay. But he said the event is about more than that camaraderie.

“I don’t even think these events have anything to do with gay pride. I think it just has to do with diversity and I think it’s awesome and people should come out and show their own colors. It doesn’t matter if they’re rainbows or green and white, blank and white or anything. Just come out and have fun. Who gives a beep beep beep beep.”

And it wasn’t all serious either. Groups of parade goers ended their march along Central Avenue where the street was closed from 21st to 28th Street to make way for live music and street vendors. A small crowd formed around Yates and started singing.

Christin Krieger was part of that crowd. She pulled along a cooler full of adult beverages and she was having a good time with her straight friend. But as fun as Pride events are, they still come packed with meaning.

“Gay marriages – why not? You love who you are. You are who you are. You got to love who you love, bottom line….we are who we are.”

This was Krieger’s 12th year participating in various Pride events. She said the LGBT fight for equality has come a long way with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military and the passage of domestic partnership registries in localities across the area. But she still wants to see gay marriage legal in all 50 states because same sex couples, she said, should have the same rights as everyone else.

“Well, a couple of years ago we had a firefighter who was in a partnership and they denied her benefits. Why? When you sign your life insurance, it says beneficiary whoever you are. And they denied her beneficiary why? Because she was gay?”

Jenna Murphy, an aspiring videographer agreed.

“I don’t understand why people have to judge us. If you’re not waking up to us, why does it matter what we do or who we marry? So, I think that everyone should be equal. What happened to blacks and whites? Not everyone wanted segregation against black people. We’re no different just because of who we love, like, not our skin color.”

The parade is the culmination of an entire month’s worth of events celebrating gay pride. The group’s executive director, Chris Rudisill, said in advance of the event that gay pride parades are held nationwide in June to celebrate the Stonewall Riots of the late sixties. That started when police raided a gay bar and were later confronted by nearly 2,000 LGBT supporters.

“One thing we did this year with some of our events – we did movie night for LGBT youth and we showed Before Stonewall which really shows – it’s a film that shows what happened before the Stonewall riots in ’69 and it really shows the early history of the gay and lesbian and the gay rights movement.”

Despite the size of the parade, there weren’t large groups of protesters. Some parade participants said that each year support grows and dissent decreases.

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