I moved to Tampa from one of the gay-friendliest cities in the country — Seattle — the same year then-County Commissioner Ronda Storms was banning gay pride. But hate doesn't just spring from outside a community. I found that the gay and lesbian community in Seattle, with its seemingly open possibilities, limited itself by its labels and was unforgiving to those who did not fit neatly into one of them. (There was a support group for bisexuals. I know; I was in it.)
To my surprise the people of this Red state were much more welcoming to what Seattlites called my "fence-sitting." My first outing here was a neighborhood BBQ listed on Prosuzy. I showed up at a stranger's house and met lots of women (a couple straight but most gay), some of them old friends and many of them newcomers but all happy to share an afternoon of swimming, grilling and then dancing with a new acquaintance at the old Suncoast Resort. The circles of friends here cover more area, literally and figuratively. Spread from Gulfport and St. Pete to Tampa and New Port Richey, the groups listed below primarily cater to lesbians, but I found them all to be easy-going and inclusive to all females and female-identified folks.
G.U.L.F. (Gay United Ladies of Florida)
Carol Brenner is one of seven volunteers who run G.U.L.F., an events group they call an "information connection... We get info from people, then try to connect them to groups or people they may be interested in." G.U.L.F. holds monthly potlucks and six T-Dances a year at the Waterside Landing in New Port Richey. Brenner said their May dance brought out 187 women, a welcoming group that ranged in age from "from 21 to 81." The next G.U.L.F event is the Afternoon in the Tropics T-Dance June 29, Waterside Landing, 7737 Grand Blvd., NPR, 727-841-7900. gulfwomyn.com or call president Dallas McCormack, 352-686-1051
TwirlGirl is an events/promotions company that bypassed a website in favor of a Myspace page to appeal to its "biggest market." That's the easiest way to get the word out about the events they produce and promote, says founder Pa'Mela Palumbo. In the past, TwirlGirl has gotten the word out at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival's all-female Frisky Friday party, and this spring's Bounce 2008, a Final Four party that brought over 1,000 women to Czar in Ybor. TG also hosts monthly Twirl Girl Happy Hours at A Taste of Wine in St. Pete. The age range is in the 30s, Palumbo says, but can vary depending on the entertainment. The next event is "Rock Loud, Rock Proud" on Pride Day, June 28, featuring Betty (of The L Word fame) with local act Someday Souvenir at The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N., St. Pete. Keep abreast of their events by signing up for e-mail alerts at [email protected] or visit myspace.com/twirlgirltampa.
East Coast Sport and Social Club
Lynn Hallmark organized the FanActic Four at the Rare Olive in Ybor during the NCAA Women's Final Four, and she noticed something important: Not all the women at the games and parties were out-of-towners. "The lesbians are already here. We're a huge tax base." She says the advent of GaYbor is leading Tampa back to its formerly progressive track before the big Storms of '05 that led many of her friends to relocate to St. Pete. Thus far the Club has approximately 150 coed members and has held two kickball tourneys since its late 2007 inception. Hallmark hopes to start a kickball league in the fall as an alternative to the bar scene. eastcoastsportandsocialclub.com
Lisa Moody brings "something different to the table" with Dyne, her reality TV-on-the-Web series, which just wrapped its first season and will open season two August 10 at 8 p.m. Dyne is dinner theater; that is, five regular cast members get together for dinner with one guest star (like Nadine Smith of Equality Florida) to talk about what women talk about. Five cameras watch the action and one "closet cam" is available when someone wants to speak directly to viewers without the rest of the party hearing. Viewers participate in the show by e-mailing in questions. Moody is an Emmy-winning producer and writer and Tampa resident. "If I can do what I do and have it make a difference, it's great that I can do it from here." dynetv.com
When I first moved to the area three years ago from Seattle, I took one look at Hyde Park and thought I'd been banished to the realm of super-straight hetero sex. But when I Googled the words "Tampa" + "lesbian," I found ProSuzy near the top of the list and gave founder Suzanne Noe a call. In 2000, Noe started a weekly e-mail list of things to do and sent it off to a couple dozen friends. The number of people who receive it has increased exponentially, and the online calendar on the website has multiple events every day of the week. (You can still sign up for the weekly e-mails, too.) The women are friendly and welcoming to newcomers who take that first step to just show up. Granted, in my experience the age skews upwards of 35-40, but we live in Florida; what do you expect? prosuzy.com
Tampa Bay Lesbians
Another great website with an extensive listing of niche groups and communities to join. members.aol.com/_ht_a/tblflorida/tbl.html
Crescendo is a community chorus for women. They perform at community events and have a couple big shows during the year, the next one in Miami at the GALA Choruses Festival 2008 on July 14. Crescendo welcomes new voices holds periodic auditions throughout the year. crescendosings.com (1-866-568-4833)