Former Tampa Pride board members call for change, new leadership

Tampa Pride 2022 participants. Watermark file photo.

TAMPA | Former Tampa Pride board members are calling for a change in the nonprofit’s leadership and structure after the ninth annual celebration in March and the cancelation of this year’s Pride on the River, originally slated to return this September.

Tampa Pride welcomed thousands to Ybor March 25 with an official board of four. It included Tampa Pride President Carrie West, Treasurer Howard Grater and Executive Board Members Alex Barbosa and Cassandra Hair, the latter two of whom were subsequently removed.

Their departures are a part of a larger pattern. Since January 2021, six board members have resigned from Tampa Pride’s governing body, while three including Barbosa and Hair have been removed.

Of the board members who resigned, one did so after public pressure. Mark Bias stepped down last year after sharing a derogatory social media post about female drag entertainers.

Critics say that Bias, who is also West’s husband, has remained involved with the organization ever since. Another board member who resigned returned only to resign again, while a second returned to stay, Executive Board Member Derek Durum. He rejoined and voted with West and Grater to oust Barbosa and Hair.

According to a copy of Tampa Pride’s bylaws dated May 2022, the governing body requires a minimum of three officers. Durum confirmed to Watermark that he now serves as an executive board member beside West and Grater, who remain president and treasurer.

West confirmed May 18 that the board voted to cancel Pride on the River, citing anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis the day prior. The slate included legislation targeting children at “adult live entertainment” like drag shows.

According to Axios Tampa Bay, however, West “acknowledged that the board chose to cancel the event before DeSantis signed the bill.” The outlet published a report on May 22 and spoke with former board members who charged Tampa Pride lacked the structure to plan its return.

Mark Eary, who resigned from Tampa Pride’s board in January, was among them. He helped form Tampa Pride’s current iteration and most recently served as vice president emeritus and co-director of Pride on the River, which he ran with Barbosa in 2022.

“I had been thinking about resigning for a long time,” says Eary, who’d long taken issue with West having a paid position while leading the board as president. He says that and other issues were impossible to change due to board gridlock.

“I could never get anything fixed or even considered,” he says. “I wanted to open the board up, I wanted some younger people … they refused to expand and I knew it just wasn’t going to work. I left because I couldn’t see change happening until [West and Bias] went away. It’s time for [West] to give up but he won’t, he makes too much money.”

According to Tampa Pride’s most recent Form 990, West was paid at least $81,400 in 2019. Critics of his performance as president called for his resignation along with Bias’ last year, citing a lack of accountability and performance.

Transparency was one of the reasons Barbosa wanted to join the Tampa Pride board. He experienced board gridlock when seeking financial information, noting that the board’s treasurer “is the common denominator” when it comes to the departure of several board members.

“It’s just a recipe of disaster,” Barbosa notes. “It’s never going to change as long as [West and Grater] are there to cover for each other.”

Hair agrees. She charges that West ignored reports of verbal and physical harassment she made against Grater.

“There is a lot of distrust amongst board members, especially when financials are involved,” she says. “But most importantly, there is an unwillingness to change and evolve with the community from the president and other ‘higher-ups’ within the organization.”

Hair believes that Tampa Pride’s board needs to be restructured. She cites West’s public misgendering of MCC Tampa Senior Pastor Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw earlier this year as one reason why, which prompted longtime supporter MCC Tampa to withdraw from the 2023 celebration.

Hair says that afterwards, in a meeting with West, “it was suggested to bring in new and diverse members and diversity training for the current board. This was completely ignored.”

“Mark and Carrie have done a tremendous amount for the community over the last four decades, but unfortunately are refusing to keep up with how it needs to be represented now,” Hair says. “It is heartbreaking the way Tampa Pride is currently being run.”

Another former board member, Trevor James, agrees change is needed. His involvement with Tampa Pride began in 2016 and he most recently served as a vice president in 2022. James says he was ousted “after uncovering some issues with the board’s financials.”

“There’s a history of this happening and it’s clear that with the same people that remain, the issue isn’t everyone else,” he notes. “It’s got to be coming from within.”

James believes the cancelation of Pride on the River was a financial one, “but also a mismanagement issue. I don’t think they can pull it off by themselves. It’s a big undertaking.”

Former board members John and Nancy Desmond echo him. Their work with the organization began in 2015 and evolved over the years. John resigned in early 2021 and Nancy termed out of a position before that.

“Tampa Pride started in 2015 with a small group of people,” John says. “They were going to make this happen and they did in just a few months, drawing from their own pool of colleagues and friends to have a board of directors.

“Over the years, you’d expect that their processes would mature, but they never put that work into it,” he continues. “They never reached out beyond their own circle.”

“And from my point of view, there’s been no effort to make sure that Tampa Pride goes beyond them,” Nancy adds. “I don’t think there’s anything underhanded going on, but the leadership is in their own element and needs to expand.

“This is not the time for Tampa Pride to be stepping back or ousting people who happen to have a different opinion,” she continues. “The vast majority of these people haven’t been in it for themselves, they’re in it to keep Tampa Pride going. That needs to be the goal, to keep Tampa Pride going.”

Tampa Pride President Carrie West did not respond to Watermark’s multiple requests for comment. For more information about Tampa Pride, visit

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