The Evolution of St. Pete Pride, 20 Years Later
St. Pete doesn’t just throw a Pride parade. The city celebrates all of June with LGBTQ+ extravaganzas leading up to the rainbow-sequined finale. But that wasn’t always the case. St. Pete Pride blossomed out of necessity 20 years ago after planning issues and politics put a temporary end to Tampa’s Pride. It was just the beginning.
Before then, St. Pete didn’t have an organized Pride event – or even much of a visible community. In 2003, St. Pete Pride was spearheaded by a small group of local LGBTQ+ folks, such as Brian Longstreth, Mark Bias, and Carrie West, and included a small parade.
Today, St. Pete Pride is a nonprofit and bills itself as Florida’s largest LGBTQ+ Pride celebration with mainstream and heavy-hitting sponsors such as the City of St. Pete and Tampa General Hospital lending their support to a month-long celebration. This year’s Pride technically already started with a teaser event – the Mx St Pete Pride Pageant on April 30 – and ends with events on June 30. A lot has changed since 2003.
St. Pete resident and the current LGBTQ+ liaison for the mayor’s office, Jim Nixon, saw the transformation firsthand. He was brought on to be a “friendly liaison” for the LGBTQ+ community under Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and currently works for Mayor Ken Welch. Nixon first attended St. Pete Pride 17 years ago, when it was still in its infancy.
“I knew the moment I came to St. Pete, I recognized it as a welcoming community, so absolutely I could have seen this growth coming,” Nixon said. “Those early Prides were smaller, more central. But still just a wonderful time with wonderful people.”
St. Pete Pride’s website sums it up well: “What started as a promenade became a parade and then a full Pride Month. And we now host year-round events to amplify, support, and celebrate the diverse voices of the LGBTQIA+ community – including the Black, Brown, and Trans voices that too often go unheard.”
A Swell of Pride
As so often is the case in the LGBTQ+ community, it was a local, grassroots movement that rose to the occasion in 2003. With scattered approval from the city – though notably from then-councilmember Rick Kriseman – organizers held a Pride parade that started at 25th and Central Avenue in Grand Central. The now-shuttered gay bar, Georgie’s Alibi, acted as a base and refuge for the rainbow crowd, and for years Pride’s main festivities were tied to that part of St. Pete.
“We’ve outgrown that area,” Nixon said, but organizers still wanted to honor Pride’s origins. “We painted the Progressive Pride Mural there in the Grand Central District in 2020 to anchor the memory.”
Another major benchmark in the history of the event came in 2014 with the St. Pete Pride Proclamation, solidifying the city’s support and sponsorship. From that moment forward, St. Pete Pride was no longer a small but fiery movement by those in a subculture, but a community celebration for all. Along with city sponsorship, organizers say that most of the funding for Pride now comes from corporate partners, donors, and foundations that pay to be in the parade.
“We’ve always had a strong LGBTQ+ community in this city,” Nixon said. “But it took commitment from the other communities, our allies, to increase our visible presence.” According to Nixon, the three-day-long Pride Festival in 2019 saw 250,000 people. Due to pandemic cancellations, it was off for a few years, but bounced back in 2022, with 333,000 for the event’s 20th anniversary. Said Nixon, “That just shows who we are as a city.”
A Pride for All
The St. Pete Pride team is full of fresh faces. Among them, St. Pete Pride Executive Director Nicole Berman. This year marks the Washington native’s second Pride for the city.
“We are the largest Pride event in Florida, and we want our Pride to be for everybody,” Berman said. “Pride events sometimes historically leave people out – trans people, people of color. We want to highlight them instead.”
The nonprofit has added events such as Transtastic, and Shades of Pride celebrating LGBTQ+ people of color. “We want to institute changes; the community calls us to be more inclusive and we want to always grow with the community,” Berman said. Other evolutions include the Miss St. Pete Pride Pageant, a pageant typically styled as a drag competition for cis-gendered folk, rebranded as The Mx St. Pete Pride Pageant – with the gender-neutral “Mx” for gender-nonconforming people.
St. Pete Pride is the largest event of its kind in Florida, with many families in attendance. There’s even a Youth & Family Day on the schedule. However, given the current political climate, organizers are keeping nimble.
“If anything should come to fruition, or if any of the laws or bills were to pass, we would pivot,” Berman said. “But we have every intention of moving forward. It’s a waiting game, but we’re just trying to uplift the community. We have every intention and right to be where we are.”
Avery Anderson knows that battle too well. He’s the creator of the Banned Book Library at American Stage Theatre Company, as well as the director of marketing for the theater. The library displays books – all donated – that have been banned or threatened by school boards in Florida. “Banning words, banning drag, banning our community is a form of oppression,” Anderson said. “Participating in Pride is a way of showing you do not comply with that thinking.”
Anderson is also a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, and lives on the border of downtown and the Old Northeast neighborhood. “I’ve been in St. Pete for four years, and St. Pete Pride makes me feel like I made the right choice moving here,” Anderson said. “Even among all of the unknown…it’s a place for people – all people.”
View the full list of events and more at stpetepride.org.