ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — About 300,000 people are expected to visit downtown St. Petersburg to attend one of the largest Pride events in the Southeast United States.
This year marks the 20th Pride celebration in St. Pete. Brian Longstreth, the original Pride organizer can’t believe how much the celebrations have grown.
“Being the 20th year, there are a lot of flashbacks and thinking about what we started and how far it’s come along and it’s a great feeling to see how big it has gotten and changed the community,” he explained.
Twenty years ago, the St. Pete Pride celebrations received support from just one city council member — Rick Kriseman, who went on to become Mayor of St. Petersburg — according to Longsteth. Now, St. Pete is celebrating eight years in a row earning a perfect score on the municipal equality index. The city has also elected several openly gay city council members and created an LGBTQ Liaison position.
Jim Nixon serves as the city’s LGBTQ liaison and helps to ensure St. Pete creates policies that help create equality and inclusion.
“We’re always going to fight for inclusivity and being that welcome city St. Pete has become,” Nixon explained.
Pride celebrations now extend a full month in St. Pete and every day of the year inclusion is on display downtown, especially in the Grand Central District with murals, a rainbow-painted crosswalk and flags displayed 365 days a year.
“You look at Sarasota Pride, Polk County Pride, Pasco County Pride. Which I never would have thought would have pride celebrations and they are, and I think a lot of that grew from the success of St. Pete Pride,” Longsteth explained.
Yet, with that success, LGBTQ community members are also facing adversity. This year, Florida leaders passed a Parental Rights in Education Act, known to critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation keeps sexual orientation and gender identity discussions out of grade 3 and under classrooms.
St. Pete Pride’s current President, Tiffany Freisberg, said the bill has led to more support in St. Pete.
“Volunteers, attendees, sponsors. We are seeing a huge influx and I do think that’s in direct response to the legislation and the threats we are facing,” she explained.
Longstreth said even after 20 years, the reason he started Pride celebrations in St. Pete is still just as relevant.
“I think it’s a good time for people to remember why St. Pete Pride started, which was to demand equal treatment. We need to be diligent to make sure we don’t lose the rights we worked hard to gain,” he elaborated.
Freisberg said she's grateful to live in a community that welcomes LGBTQ members with open arms.
“My Christian, heterosexual neighbors fly the Pride flag. That’s really lovely. That’s not something I take for granted,” she said.
St. Petersburg’s Pride parade in 2019 drew 260,000 people, making it the thirteenth largest Pride parade in the nation. If the event draws 310,000 people this year, it will be ranked in the top 10 Pride events in the nation.
Friday night’s concert runs from 4 -10 p.m. at Spa Beach at the St. Petersburg Pier.
Saturday’s parade will be the largest yet with 175 entrees. The parade will last about four hours.
Sunday’s street fair and carnival will run down Central Avenue between 22nd and 31st Streets. It will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.