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Organizers prepare for Tampa Pride event this Saturday

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The organizers behind this Saturday’s Tampa Pride Festival and March received a commendation this morning from the Tampa City Council, 48 hours before the big event takes place in Ybor City.

It’s the first of its kind in Tampa since 2002, but longtime community members acknowledge that last event 13 years ago was somewhat disappointing. In the interim, the event has exploded across the Bay in St. Petersburg, where the Gay Pride event expanded last year to a full weekend, with tens of thousands of people in attendance, becoming the biggest event of its type in the entire Southeast U.S.

The organizers for Tampa’s Pride event realize that at least the first time around the crowds won’t be as substantial. Carrie West has estimated that between 10,000-15,000 will make it to the Ybor event.

West said that talks to begin planning for such a major event took place less than a year ago. Finances have been an issue, but organizers received a major boost when Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that city would cover $35,000 of city services — for paramedics, police and post-parade cleanup. That’s the first sponsorship the city has given since a 2008 moratorium was placed on financially supporting new festivals.

Speaking to the Council, West admitted that a few years ago people would be shocked to think that such an event could happen inside Hillsborough County, considering the county’s stunning disapproval of anything related to LGBT rights over the years.

For a quick refresher, there was the 2005 ban on “gay pride” events; also the fact that lesbians, gays and transgendered people were omitted from protections in the county’s human rights ordinance. And the County Commission voted down a proposed domestic partner registry the first time it came before them.

But those issues have now been remedied, thanks to the leadership of County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who in 2008 became the first openly gay elected official in the county.

“The county has made major changes,” West told the Council. “Major positive reaction to what has happened from almost 10 years ago,” referring to the gay pride ban, which occurred in June of 2005. “We are so happy to say we are going to have a Tampa Pride.”

One of the grand marshals for Saturday’s march is Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, who happens to be gay herself.  The second grand marshal is community leader Kurt King, owner/manger of Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor. There will also be a number of local lawmakers as well present, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Mayor Buckhorn and several School Board and City Council members.

The event kicks offs at 10 a.m. with remarks from many of those dignitaries. The parade runs from 1:00-2:30 p.m. on 7th Avenue from Nuccio Parkway to 20th Street, with the event ending at 5 p.m.

Observing how Tampa became the first local government on the west coast of Florida to introduce a domestic partner benefit registry (thanks to Councilwoman Yolie Capin), to the fact that as of this past January same-sex marriage is legal in Florida, Councilman Mike Suarez noted, “I don’t think any of us thought this would have ever happened. The parade is just a capstone to all the great things that we’ve been able to do over the years.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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