MCC Tampa withdraws from Pride this weekend, still encourages others to go and ‘experience joy’

Tampa Pride returns this weekend, but a few organizations and performers have withdrawn their support.

click to enlarge The sign outside Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa in Seminole Heights. - MCC Tampa / Facebook
MCC Tampa / Facebook
The sign outside Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa in Seminole Heights.
Jakob Hero-Shaw—senior pastor at the interfaith Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa—is a hopeless optimist. It’s what made him a man of faith, champion of LGBTQ+ rights, and longtime proponent of Tampa Pride’s annual celebration.

But a few weeks ago, Hero-Shaw reached a breaking point. After being publicly misgendered by longtime Tampa Pride president Carrie West for a third time, MCC’s board of directors decided to pull its support from 2023’s Pride celebration, which returns to Ybor City this Saturday, March 25.

On March 8, MCC sent a letter to Tampa Pride explaining its withdrawal from all affiliated events, stating that the church would not return until “the Executive Board takes the necessary actions to prevent Carrie West from representing the organization and therefore being seen by some as a spokesperson for Tampa’s LGBTQ+ community.”
In a public announcement separate from MCC’s official statement, Hero-Shaw described his role in the situation in a document titled “What Happened with Tampa Pride?”

Hero-Shaw said West had not started misgendering him until he found out that the pastor was a transgender man, and that the continuous misgendering had happened many times in various public spaces. But Hero-Shaw emphasizes that the problems with West and the structure of Tampa Pride as an organization run much deeper than misgendering.

“I also care about the good people involved in Pride who are trying to remake the image of this organization, an organization that for years has had the reputation of being misogynistic, racist, and transphobic,” Hero-Shaw wrote.

In addition to West’s misgendering, Hero-Shaw has a problem with West referring to his home as “The Plantation” or “Rainbow Plantation,” emphasizing that language matters, and just because West doesn’t intend to harm, doesn’t mean that his words cannot cause harm.

Hero-Shaw adds that West and other leaders within the organization told him that he was “overreacting” about being repeatedly misgendered by the leaders of Tampa’s LGBTQ+ community.

MCC’s withdrawal comes three months after West’s husband, Mark Bias, made a controversial statement about drag queens on social media. Bias stepped down from his position as a board member and secretary of Tampa Pride, although Hero-Shaw says he still remains in a “de facto role.”

Tampa Pride did issue a public apology to Hero-Shaw after MCC’s withdrawal. West also expressed regret about his “pronoun mistake” to Watermark Magazine. West told Watermark that “ethnicity, gender, it doesn’t matter—this is a day of celebration to recognize what Tampa is for its LGBTQ+ members.”

Hero-Shaw told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that West’s colorblind statement missed the point; emphasizing that the LGBTQ+ community should be embracing the intersectionality of the queer identity, not disregarding it.

“Things like gender and ethnicity actually matter a lot, and I hope that Carrie makes the choice to learn and be more inclusive. This can be a transformative opportunity,” Hero-Shaw tells CL. “Trans people and people of color are not ‘others’ in this community.”

“Trans people and people of color are not ‘others’ in this community.”

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Carl Simmonds aka Aquariius, a popular Tampa Bay drag performer, withdrew from their Tampa Pride performances after MCC’s announcement earlier this month. “I am pulling out of the Pride @ Night event by Tampa Pride unless Carrie steps down,” Simmonds posted on Instagram. “The continued transphobia is not okay and my name will not be associated with it. As much as performing with CupcakKe would mean, my trans brothers and sisters always come first.”

In addition to this public statement, Simmonds says that he still “absolutely believes in Tampa Pride and wants to see it succeed,” and continues to call for both West and Bias to step down from their leadership positions.

Reached by phone for input on the situation, West told CL that he “wasn’t going to answer any of those questions,” describing them as “hearsay.”

“I still hold Reverend Shaw in very high regard, but it’s a shame that MCC would belittle two people that have built up this community,” West said. “I apologized, I did my best.”

West stated that next year’s Pride celebration will be even grander, although he’s “afraid that there may not be a Pride or Pride parades across the state of Florida in 2024. We are very very concerned about that.”

Late last year, Axios reported that several young community members—including many trans folks and people of color—called for Tampa Pride’s board to diversify after Bias had stepped down.

While MCC and a few like-minded individuals and organizations have decided to withdraw from their Tampa Pride-affiliated events, Hero-Shaw stresses that he is in no way or form asking people to boycott Tampa Pride—quite the opposite, actually.

Despite folks accusing him of “behaving like Ron DeSantis” and causing community in-fighting, Hero-Shaw still encourages queer Floridians to attend this weekend’s events.

“I don’t want people to miss out on any opportunity to connect with joy, and Pride truly brings people joy,” Hero-Shaw adds. “ When I attended Pride as a teenager, it was just so life giving to me to feel like I wasn’t alone. I would hate for anybody to miss Pride and feel more alone, especially at a time like this.”

While MCC stated that it will not support or participate in Tampa Pride unless West steps down, Hero-Shaw says that if West showed the ability to reconcile and that there was real evidence of change, then he and MCC might be able to reason with him.

“But I just don’t know if the desire is there,” he adds.

About The Author

Kyla Fields

Kyla Fields is the Managing Editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who started their journey at CL as summer 2019 intern. They are the proud owner of a charming, sausage-shaped, four-year-old rescue mutt named Piña.
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