Tampa Pride marks 10 years after calls for change

Tampa Pride 2022. (Photo by Dylan Todd)

TAMPA | Tampa Pride will hold its 10th outing March 23 from 10:45 a.m.-11 p.m., returning to Ybor after a series of smaller events and calls for change.

Last year’s celebration welcomed over 90,000 people, President Carrie West says. This year’s milestone is expected to feature 140 street festival vendors and 150 parade entries to mark “10 years of celebrating you.”

Vendors will display goods and services in two main areas, E. 9th Ave. and the Hillsborough Community College parking lot, from 10:45 a.m.-4:15 p.m., as well as in the Cuban Club Courtyard through 11 p.m. The latter will host Pride at Night and features Tampa Pride’s main stage.

The 2024 parade will head east along 7th Ave. beginning at 4 p.m. Entertainment at the Cuban Club will flank the processional and feature the 2024 Royal Court, KC Starrz, Ericka PC, Esme Russell, Imani Valentino and other fan favorites.

It will continue through the evening with headliners Coco Montrese of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” David Hernandez of “American Idol” and the group Actual Bank Robbers. West says there are 70 entertainers this year, 40% of whom are new. View some of them below:

The main celebration follows several smaller events, including a Grand Marshal Gala on March 7. It honored Dr. Gary Howell and Gabrielle Fearce Santi as grand marshals, the Tampa Bay Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as community leaders, former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as a trailblazer, Daniel and Dustin Johnson as a grand couple and Out Coast as a business. Read more about each honoree here.

Festivities continued March 9 with the inaugural Rainbow Run at Al Lopez Park, a multi-race event attended by supporters old and new. An Interfaith Pride Service is also scheduled for March 19 at The Portico, open to those of all faiths:

Each of this year’s events follow calls for change in the nonprofit’s structure. Multiple outlets reported last year that former Tampa Pride board members and supporters were publicly seeking more transparency regarding its operations, citing the board’s cancellation of Pride on the River 2023 last May and more.

West confirmed at the time that the celebration wouldn’t return in September, citing anti-LGBTQ+ laws signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. One such law was utilized to target drag across the state, a matter currently being litigated.

Members of the community raised concerns over the Tampa Pride board’s turnover as well, noting that at least nine members had resigned or been removed since 2021. They also took issue with West having a paid position while serving as Tampa Pride’s board president, a voting member.

West did not respond to Watermark’s requests for comment last year but confirmed in December that he’s joined on the board by Howard Grater and Derek Durum. He subsequently addressed board turnover this month, responding to Watermark’s questions in writing. His answers have been altered only to remove caps lock.

“Some individuals have medical conditions that they responded by taking an absence of volunteering,” he wrote. “Others have moved, gotten new careers, but remember that any non-profit lives by the volunteerism of individuals in the community itself.

“Tampa Pride does not hold back nor should we because we are a LGBTAQ+ organization from those that cause community mis-trust, lies, fake rumors, mis-truths, thievery and mis-trust of funds by people suppositively to be in the organization,” he continued. “They are sanctioned or fired!”

Regarding calls for a change in leadership, West added that “I am all for getting on the Tampa Pride team. But it is work!” He also confirmed Pride on the River’s future will be addressed in May but did not respond to Watermark’s multiple requests for additional information.

“This is a remarkable space in this unpredictable climate in this country,” he said of marking 10 years. “… Love the views of everyone positive or negative, be who you are and live today. Now let’s all get to work.”

For more information about Tampa Pride 2024, visit TampaPride.org. You can also read Watermark’s inaugural Pride in Tampa magazine in Tampa Bay editions and at WatermarkOnline.com on March 14.

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