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Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

ST. PETERSBURG — The 16th annual St. Pete Pride Parade is getting ready to march along the downtown waterfront the second straight year. But many hope to move past the division caused last year when the parade was uprooted from its original home in the Grand Central District.

Instead, both sides want to embrace the joy of the three-day Pride celebration, which starts Friday and bills itself as Florida’s largest LGBTQ event.

Grand Central District president Jonathan Tallon said that while businesses there are still smarting after the move, they want the focus of Pride to go back to Pride itself.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some bruised feeling still out there.

"Some of the conversations the last year have been unpleasant, to say the least, and contentious at the outset," Tallon said. "I think Elvis Costello put it best: ‘What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding.’?"

"I think that’s what we want to get back to."

Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ covers aside — (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding was actually written by Nick Lowe in 1974 — St. Pete Pride is also eager to move on and focus on the advantages of the new, more scenic parade route.

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The shift allows the celebration to be spread throughout the city, said St. Pete Pride executive director Luke Blankenship. By holding Saturday’s parade downtown and then the street festival in Grand Central on Sunday, he said it generates the feeling that the entire city — and not just one district — supports the weekend and what it represents.

It’s a message Mayor Rick Kriseman and others at City Hall have been eager to share. As he has every year in office, the mayor raised the rainbow flag outside City Hall on Thursday to kick off Pride weekend.

The mayor and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, along with members of the St. Pete Pride board, recently walked along Bayshore Drive NE and Central Avenue and handed out traditional rainbow-colored pride flags and blue, pink and white transgender pride flags to local businesses to promote Pride weekend.

The second annual TransPride parade will start at 7 p.m. Saturday at Fifth Avenue NE and Bayshore Drive NE, 15 minutes before the Pride parade.

"Many had already been flying the flags," Tomalin said. "We’ve really seen downtown become more demonstrative with their support of Pride, and that’s a great thing."

Pinellas County Stonewall Democrats president Susan McGrath, who sits on the St. Pete Pride board, said the response from businesses was positive, noting many shop owners quickly put up the transgender and pride flags along the street.

McGrath has watched the parade grow exponentially since its start as a grass-roots, homegrown event. As it grew in size and attendance, she said moving it downtown made the most sense logistically, allowing better security coordination amidst a waterfront view and ample shade.

"Ultimately, the location is secondary to the meaning of the event, and with what’s going on in the world right now," McGrath said. "It’s really important that we have solidarity and stand together.

"Whether a parade is held in certain blocks of town or in other blocks of town, that’s not the most important thing."

Despite the détente, Tallon said changing the location of the parade had a substantial impact on the Grand Central businesses who spent 14 years building the event up.

"There’s no question about it," he said. "The epicenter of the parade route was kind of ground zero for a pretty robust weekend for a number of businesses here."

Still, he said, last year many business owners were surprised by both the turnout for Sunday’s street festival and the number of people who walked 10 minutes down to the parade route and then back to the district afterward.

And while feelings haven’t changed in the past year — many still want the parade to return to its first home — Tallon said there’s a desire to refocus on the purpose of Pride weekend itself.

"It was a really tough situation last year," he said. "But I think we’re going to continue to celebrate the hell out of the weekend no matter where the parade is, because people are going to come back here afterward anyway."

"We’re the home to the LGBT community 365 days a year, and that will continue to be the case."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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