St Pete Pride 20: Pride is a Symbol

I had been involved in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee in New York for a few years in the early 1980s and when I got to St. Pete, I marched in the Pride parade in Tampa.

I wanted to see a Pride celebration here and it was amazing to watch it all come together.

Brian had brought together a diverse group who each had a pertinent talent to contribute. My main talent was being able to cheerfully maintain some semblance of order during meetings.

As with any group we all did not agree on everything, but each was willing to work it out – and on the important stuff we all agreed. We wanted it to be family friendly because there are many gay families who might want to bring their children. We discouraged nudity.

Rick Baker was mayor. He did not sign a proclamation honoring Gay Pride. However, he did not stand in our way. Rick Kriseman, who was on the City Council at the time, signed the proclamation. There will always be a place for him in my heart for that.

After the parade and festival we were asked to meet with sanitation and police for an evaluation. They could not have been nicer. There was no violence or public intoxication, and sanitation could not believe that we cleaned up after ourselves.

Perhaps my favorite memory was a letter we got from a dad who lived near Seminole Park, on the parade route. He said our parade was the first one his toddler had ever seen. The whole family loved it and hoped it would become an annual event.

To my amazement we got support from banks and businesses. Each year, more and more straight businesses supported us.

The first year I don’t remember any “floats,” though there might have been a couple of pick-up trucks loaded with celebrants. That quickly changed with more and more each year, and more and more Pride events cropped up.

The number of blocks for the festival just kept increasing. In fact, Pride grew to cover blocks that we were told could not possibly be included.

As St Pete Pride turns 20, I am proud to have been part of the beginning. I don’t think any of us could have imagined how it would grow. We had about 10,000 participants, which blew us away. And I believe the last one had more than 265,000.

People come from all over to participate. It feels like we planted a seed and got an oak tree. Or a forest of oak trees.

To those celebrating this year I say, “enjoy!” We have come a long way from when the Klan (yes, both in Tampa and Saint Petersburg) would protest. And we ignored them. In Tampa we chanted to them “Your shoes don’t match your dress,” because yes, they actually wore white sheets and pointy hats with argyle socks and black shoes.

Our Pride celebration is a symbol. A symbol of not only self-acceptance, but of acceptance by the community we live in.

Remember that a quarter of a million people participated in the last St Pete Pride celebration. They were certainly not all LGBTQ.

Ellen Levett, 78, served on St Pete Pride’s board as co-chair for three years. She has lived in St. Petersburg since 1992.

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