PHOTOS: Equality Florida marks 25 years with record fundraiser

ABOVE: Equality Florida’s St. Pete Steering Committee. Photo by Dylan Todd.

ST. PETERSBURG | Equality Florida celebrated 25 years during its St. Pete Gala May 7, raising a record $706,926 in its fight as the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.

An estimated 675 supporters attended this year’s event, which was held at The Mahaffey for the first time since 2019. The evening featured an address from Executive Director Nadine Smith, music by Sunde, a silent auction, dinner, dancing and more.

The main presentation was hosted by Spectrum Bay News 9 personality Chuck Diaz-Henson. He began by thanking attendees for their support and highlighting honorary hosts, including openly LGBTQ State Rep. Michele Rayner, former State Rep. Jennifer Webb and Largo Vice Mayor Michael Smith.

PNC Bank’s Stephanie Frye took the stage next, detailing the organization’s proud role as presenting sponsor. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch followed, delivering his first Equality Florida address as the city’s leader.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to talk to you in awhile and not start the sentence with ‘I’m Ken Welch and I’m running for,’” he mused. The longtime LGBTQ ally then thanked the organization and its supporters for “helping me follow our great friend, former mayor Rick Kriseman.”

“But tonight it’s not about what any of us are running for, it’s what we are willing to stand up for in this nation,” Welch continued. He then denounced anti-LGBTQ and other legislation targeting minorities.

“It’s up to us to stand for truth and for the ideals of freedom that this country has always aspired to – and as mayor of St. Petersburg, I am honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with Equality Florida in this fight,” he said. “We are one city, one community, one voice for equality, we are St. Pete.”

Voice for Equality award recipients Jennie O’Leary and Brian Longstreth were honored next. The former is an eight-year volunteer with the organization and was introduced by Equality Florida Pinellas Development Director Todd Richardson.

“I’m truly honored to be recognized in this way,” O’Leary shared. “Being an ally is just looking out for each other and helping each other in any way that we can … giving a little kindness and love to each other is all that we need.”

Longstreth – a co-founder of both St Pete Pride and Come OUT St. Pete – was introduced by Kriseman. He used the platform to denounce Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ actions and more. “As a state, we need to do better,” he said. “Thank you all for this honor, I appreciate it very much.”

Smith closed out the presentation, delivering an impassioned State of the State address. She noted that among Equality Florida’s fight, the organization has filed suit against DeSantis for the state’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law. It will limit classroom discussion of LGBTQ identity in schools starting in July.

“I have hope because I am seeing all across the country, all across our state, people showing up,” Smith concluded. “It’s evident here tonight with this record-breaking crowd and fundraising. Do not cower, do not be fearful. Get angry, get organized, stay involved and wake up the people around you – because it’s time to fight back.”

Watermark was proud to sponsor and attend this year’s gala. Learn more about Equality Florida’s work at and view our photos below.

Photos by Dylan Todd.


Additional photos by Ryan Williams-Jent.


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