Some might call me “Super Gay,” because I run an LGBT non-profit, own an LGBT business journal, post cheesy loving photos of my wife and me all over social media, and wear rainbow earrings almost daily. It would also be easy to assume that I’ve attended every big pride celebration on the East Coast and live for the next big gay party.

The truth is that I hate large crowds and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attended a pride celebration that I wasn’t hosting.

In 2007, I attended my first pride parade and festival in Baltimore. It was my “coming out” celebration. I went with my girlfriend (now wife) to see what it was all about.

All I can remember from that parade were drunken men in thongs on floats and people tripping over each other along North Charles St. Needless to say, my first pride experience didn’t leave me with the desire to go back for more.

St Pete Pride
My father, wife and I attending the March on Washington in 2009.

In 2009, my family joined us for the March on Washington. Juxtaposed to my Baltimore experience, DC’s celebration was easily one of the most memorable moments of my life. My father, who had just come to terms with my new same-sex relationship, marched alongside us with a poster that read “End the Harm.”

I changed that day. I experienced, on a deeper level, what being part of the LGBT community means from a societal and political standpoint. I knew I wanted to fight for LGBT rights and to be a part of the Gay Civil Rights movement, but I wasn’t sure how.

In 2010, I literally stepped into a pride parade. My wife and I had traveled to San Francisco. Unbeknownst to us, as we walked toward AT&T Park to see the Giants play, we realized that we were marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade, the largest pride parade on the West Coast. The crowds were huge and the colors brilliant. I thought about separating from my group to take in the festivities, but alas, it was not to be.

By 2013, I’d started watching documentaries on LGBT history, reading about politics affecting the community, and becoming more vocal about my sexual orientation and issues at the core of the LGBT ‘s fight for equal rights.  All of this led to my founding of the Chester County LGBT Equality Alliance in the suburbs of Pennsylvania in 2015.

In 2016, we hosted our first Pride Festival and on June 3rd of this year, we hosted our second, gathering 2500 community members in the suburbs of Pennsylvania to celebrate pride. Although small compared to most pride festivals, it was a huge success for our historically conservative county.

 

St Pete Pride
Chester County Pride Fest with Mayors Speck and Comitta. (Paul Gurcules Photography)

Since then, my involvement in pride festivals and parades has expanded. I attended Philadelphia Pride Fest, Philly Outfest, and Reading Pride Fest. Each unique in its own way.

This year, for the first time, I attended St. Pete Pride parade. I was both overwhelmed and impressed by the crowds, floats, and overall energy. The floats were decorated to perfection. From pirate ships to hotel room themes, the parade offered plenty of photo opportunities and entertainment.

The parade participants showed and strutted their rainbow colors as they represented the entire spectrum of the LGBT community. There were business leaders, non-profit organizations, politicians (including Mayor Rick Kriseman), local celebrities, drag queens, and LGBT-inclusive corporations.

I was also delighted to see the transgender community lead the parade as an integral part of the community and celebration, rather than as an add-on, or afterthought.

St. Pete Pride
Jennifer Real entertains St. Pete Price attendees with her powerhouse voice. (Rachel Stevenson/OUTCOAST)

In the midst of all of this, performers entertained the crowds on the stage in Straub Park. One of the local favorites, singer Jennifer Real, rocked the microphone with her powerhouse voice that had everyone “shakin’ their groove thang.”

While the oppressive heat may have tapped out the bottled water supply from all of the many vendors, it didn’t get in the way of everyone thoroughly enjoying themselves. And, as I took a step back to take in the enormity of the moment, I was grateful for the opportunity to witness one of the largest and best-organized pride parades on the East Coast.

I can’t wait for next year’s St Pete Pride Parade as a feeling like this is one I want to capture again and again and again.

To learn more about St. Pete Pride, click here.

Photos from St Pete Pride: