Pride flag flies over St. Pete City Hall

The event heralded the biggest Pride festival in the state.

click to enlarge Pride flag flies over St. Pete City Hall
Larry Biddle

For the fourth year in a row, city officials, LGBTQ community leaders and allies gathered around the flagpole outside St. Petersburg City Hall to raise the Pride flag. 

A crowd of dozens applauded the move, which serves as a nod to this weekend's St. Pete Pride parade and festival, the biggest event of its kind in the state, as well as sign of welcome and appreciation for city's burgeoning LGBTQ community and the visitors Pride attracts. A handful of anti-choice protesters dotted the crowd, though everyone ignored them.

To St. Pete City Council Chair Darden Rice, the flying of the Pride flag is a sign of how far the city has recently come on equality.

"We didn't get there by accident. We got there because of the leadership of my colleagues on City Council, because of the leadership of our staff and especially because of the leadership of our mayor, Rick Kriseman," Rice said ahead of the flag raising.

The flag was first raised in 2014, during Mayor Rick Kriseman's first year in office, and it's happened every year since. This year, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater Director David Downing, representatives from Congressman Charlie Crist's office and other dignitaries stood behind the podium marking the event.

"I am so pleased that this has become a tradition in the Sunshine City," Kriseman said. "When I first raised this flag in 2014, it was to serve as an illustration of our new vision and to signal to our residents and visitors that it was a new day here in St. Petersburg."

The mayor also recognized the city's new LGBT liaison, Jim Nixon, who is filling the role Robert Nixon left. Nixon will serve in a volunteer capacity and continue in his work at the Salvador Dali Museum, where he serves as membership and group sales manager.

During the event, it was hard not to be reminded of the upcoming mayoral and council election in St. Pete.

Without directly mentioning his toughest opponent, former mayor Rick Baker, who left office four years prior to Kriseman's election in 2013, Kriseman drew subtle contrasts between his administration's embrace of diversity and past administrations' not having even written a proclamation recognizing Pride's significance.

"We don't just tolerate anymore. We celebrate," Kriseman said. "We want every citizen, regardless of skin color, regardless of who they love or who they pray to to feel like there's no better place to be than St. Petersburg Florida. But there is still work to do, and there will always be. There will always be some things or someone to halt our progress."

The St. Pete Pride parade begins at 6:30 at Albert Whitted Park. For the first year in the event's 15-year history, the route will go along Beach Drive. In an effort to sooth contention over the new route and to recognize St. Pete Pride's roots in the city's first gay-friendly neighborhood, the Pride street festival will take place Sunday in the Grand Central District.

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