Peace, Love, and Conflict Prevail at St Pete Pride
The 2018 St Pete Pride festival is sweltering in the mid 90's and packed with sweaty energetic people on Saturday. The air is filled with a mixture of weed, sunscreen, and fading cheap body spray. The atmosphere is sexually charged by low cut sometimes absent tops mixed with painted body parts and a lot of hugging, kissing and drinking. Bun revealing cut-off shorts, fish net stockings, rainbow tutus and slogan t-shirts rule the day, but there's a lot of individual style going on as well. Drag queens, goth dressers, and anime characters flourish here. Add some great musical entertainment and the scene is a dream for a photographer like me.
Pride events nationwide are held out as preeminent celebrations of diversity and acceptance ostensibly resulting in "you-do-you" permission. And for the most part St. Pete Pride is no different. However this year there is a stronger presence of intolerance from attendees about religious righteousness and especially in the political arena. One might assume it's a result of the remarkable national divide along political lines given the current climate, but the irony of the lack of compassion for, and acceptance of, alternative views from Pride goers isn't lost on this writer. As long as I can remember religious zealots proselytizing about the sins and wickedness of the LGBTQ community have been a part of the mix. Their signs are provocative and engaging and a small percentage of walkers-by enjoy some finger pointing back-and-forth. But I've never seen physical contact to the extreme I saw this year where a sign carrying Christian preacher was pulled to the ground and had to be rescued by St Pete police. He was okay and left most likely for his own safety. It's just such a contrast to the gay affirming churches marching in the Pride parade carrying signs of acceptance and love, mixed with the ever present demand for equality and diversity that is one of the cornerstones of Pride celebrations.
The LGBTQ community is a powerful one politically, especially in these parts. Politicians are historically part of the mix in the St Pete Pride, either through their attendance or avoidance of the event. Republican Mayor Rick Baker notoriously refused to sign a Pride proclamation for St Pete in 2009 and would not take part in the event. He was again defeated in a re-election bid in 2017 by the current Mayer Rick Kriseman.
As the fest has gained in popularity bunches of incumbents and wanna-be politicos show up understanding the importance of the LGBTQ vote. Polarized political banter is super amped up this year given the divisive daily headlines of national news from the White House. A contingent of folks wearing Gays For Trump T-shirts were seen walking through the celebration and talking about how the current administration is tolerant and pro-gay. Yes, they got some push back. Others wore derisive anti-Trump slogans on their clothes and wrote snide messages about the current administration and policy.
As the event has grown, so have the number of national brands and corporate sponsorship trying to capture the demographic. Ostensibly it helps not only with recruiting but also with brand loyalty at a retail level. Companies such as Macy's have been along for the ride for a number of years. Clearwater based Tech Data produced over 700 marchers this year, some flown in from out of town, for the event according to news reports. However, from my years of covering the event, corporations have taken over the visual dominance of the parade by sponsoring the largest units, losing a great deal of local panache and flavor. Here, as in so much of our culture, money rules I suppose.
Here's what I saw.
Like last year, the 2018 parade was broken down into two elements. Wearing Assume Nothing T-shirts The 2018 TransPride March kicked off the parade with the main event following
The celebration continues on Sunday June 24 on Central Avenue in downtown St Pete.