Tampa Pride cancels Pride on the River, cites anti-LGBTQ+ laws

Pride on the River 2021’s boat parade. Photo by Dylan Todd.

TAMPA | Tampa Pride announced the cancelation of September’s Pride on the River May 18, citing anti-LGBTQ+ laws signed by Governor Ron DeSantis the day prior.

The inaugural Pride on the River was held in 2021 and returned last year along the Tampa Riverwalk. Festivities have included drag brunches and performances, a Diversity Boat Parade and more.

Tampa Pride President Carrie West confirmed to multiple news outlets that the celebration wouldn’t return this year. The newsletter he shares with husband Mark Bias, “Dishing with Mark n Carrie,” noted that Tampa Pride’s board made the decision.

“The Board of Tampa PRIDE voted to cancel ‘Tampa PRIDE on the River’ this year,” it reads. “In the years past, many variety acts, bands, entertainers, activists, elected officials and headliners of the ‘RuPaul’ girls along with many local Drag artists, have performed here.

“It would be unfeasible to make this event 18 and up,” it continues. “The main Tampa PRIDE 10 Year Anniversary Event is a go for March 2024. Last year the Cuban Club courtyard was made an 18+ event to accommodate the state’s, “Don’t Say Gay” bills.”

The newsletter subsequently referenced DeSantis’ signing of four anti-LGBTQ+ bills May 17, the largest slate of such legislation in Florida’s history. They included House Bill 1423, which targets children at “adult live entertainment” like drag shows. The governor has confirmed its intent is to restrict such performances.

“We just said, you know what, we are afraid if we did go through with this [DeSantis] would come in with his Gestapo… not Tampa Police, because we’re working with them, but maybe another group, and they’d all just pull the plug on it,” West told the Tampa Bay Times.

Pride on the River’s cancelation came as a shock to many Tampa Pride supporters, including local activist and entertainer Brianna Summers. The drag performer has a long history with the organization and emceed its riverside event for the last two years. She says she was unaware it wouldn’t return this September.

“This is not the time to respond to fearmongering like this,” Summers says. “We have to stay vigilant, we have to continue being loud and we need an organization like Tampa Pride to stand with the community and be our voice at this time.

“Pride was built on a riot,” she continues. “Now is not the time to cower.”

Watermark reached out to West for additional comment about Pride on the River’s cancelation and its current board. The nonprofit’s governing body experienced a tumultuous public turnover following Tampa Pride 2023, which also made adjustments in response to anti-LGBTQ+ actions in Tallahassee. We will update this story should it be received.

West did share a statement via Tampa Pride’s social media, writing “It is with deep sorrow and sadness that the TAMPA PRIDE BOARD has had to CANCEL PRIDE ON THE RIVER this Fall. The law the governor signed into effect against LGBTQ+ Community yesterday is sickening. More to come!

“Our choice was clear and spelled out by the governor,” he continued. “No busisness, organization, individual or promoter can not have anyone under 18 years of age view a drag performance. Liquor license, event permitting, state laws will be enforced to have all permits revoked. That is simply put! We are all sick for our LGBTQ+ Community. Put on your thinking caps Floridians….. We have to come together for our lives.”

View it below:

West did confirm to multiple outlets that the 10th Tampa Pride, scheduled for March 2024, will return as planned.

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