Ybor City was the site of Tampa’s Pride celebration Saturday, the biggest event since organizers revived it in 2015.
“When Carrie (West) said we want to bring the Pride Parade to Tampa, I said let’s roll!” yelled an exuberant Bob Buckhorn in kicking off the festivities.
West and longtime partner Mark Bias are founding members of Tampa Pride and helped create the GaYBOR District Coalition in the aughts. He was inspired to bring the event back to Tampa after the Hillsborough County Commission repealed their infamous ban on gay pride events back in June of 2013.
Over the past decade, the St. Petersburg LGBT Pride parade has become one of the biggest celebrations in the entire Southeast, generating crowds of over 150,000. While Tampa’s event is nowhere near that scale, this year’s event featured 80 percent more booths than in 2016, with additional stages added as well.
The day featured a tribute to the survivors first responders and bar staff from last year’s shooting tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, which killed 49 people, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.
“Pulse was our home. It was our safe place, but in mere moments, the place that we knew as our sanctuary had been taken from us,” Neema Bahrami, the entertainment manager of Pulse, told the crowd. “It was easy to feel defeated, empty, exhausted and hopeless, but through our tragedy comes strength, a strength as a community to come together in time of crisis, a strength to be resilient in the face of adversity, a strength to love one another in spite of our differences.”
A few local politicians were in attendance.
While Senator Bill Nelson was not there, Digna Alvarez, his Tampa aide, read a statement from her boss. “Although I’m unable to attend, I thank you for your leadership and support in the aftermath of last year’s Pulse shooting tragedy,” Alvarez read. “I hope that the festivities serve not only as a celebration of past triumph but also as an inspiration for future ones.”
Luis Viera, the newest member of the Tampa City Council, said he looks at the issue of LGBT rights as a father.
“I’ve got a ten-year-old son, and you know what? If I ever had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, I wouldn’t want anybody to tell that they’re a second-class citizen, because of how God made them as. That’s how I see this issue,” he said.
Councilman Guido Maniscalco was also there; he had recently introduced an ordinance banning conversion therapy in Tampa. That’s the controversial practice used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
As voted on by the Council earlier this month, state-licensed therapists and counselors would be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for repeat offenses.
“In 2012, the previous Council moved forward to make a domestic partner registry, and this just builds along the lines of that community support, the support for human rights,” said Maniscalco. He told the crowd he decided to bring the issue to the forefront after speaking with his friends in the gay community about how similar ordinances has been passed in Miami Beach and West Palm Beach.
“Tampa has been so forward thinking and progressive, we should do it here. Hopefully, we can continue inspiring other cities or if they take it to the state level, then great,” he says. “I just want to maintain that reputation where people are welcome, we want you here. Tampa is stronger together.”
A second hearing on the ban on conversion therapy is set for the council’s April 6 meeting.