Article written by Samantha Ponzillo, Edited by Rachel Covello
On Saturday, June 27th, the St Petersburg LGBTQ and Black Communities collaborated to organize the Together We Rise Virtual Vigil in downtown St Petersburg. Key organizations involved included Come OUT St. Pete, Project No Labels, and the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
Due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, the entire world cancelled most LGBTQ+ Pride festivals and parades. But in light of recent events, including several murders of both blacks and black trans women, the St Petersburg vigil participants felt the need to gather to lift one another up, even in the face of a pandemic.
The vigil was an initiative to bridge the LGBTQ+ and African American communities while honoring lives lost to hate.
Over 50 volunteers participated in the unfurling of a 375-foot rainbow flag along Bayshore Blvd. The vigil flag was a small replica of the 1.25-mile-long 25th anniversary flag displayed during the 2003 Key West Pride. Gilbert Baker created both the original rainbow flag and 25th anniversary flag.
Everyone knelt for nine-minutes in a moment of silence to honor George Floyd of Minneapolis, Tony McDade of Tallahassee, Rayshard Brooks of Atlanta, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells of Philadelphia, and Riah Milton of Liberty Township. A candlelight vigil followed.
Volunteers on the sidelines walked up and down the street waiving rainbow flags with peace symbols. Vigil members sang “we shall overcome”, which conjured up memories of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. All volunteers wore matching “Together We Rise” shirts, sponsored by HSN.
To ensure safety, participants remained 6 feet apart, wore masks, and used hand sanitizer. Sanitizer was sponsored by St Pete Distillery. The host organizations also requested that others watch the event safely via Facebook Live.
The show of solidarity between all communities involved in the Together We Rise Virtual Vigil was an emotional one. People showed up to support the movement all while respecting social distancing measures. Bystanders along the sidewalk even joined the vigil and grabbed a section of flag to help hold up the weight.
Come OUT St. Pete director, Brian Longstreth, said he was “really pleased with the turnout in these difficult times. Everyone wore their masks and stayed socially distant. More than anything, the show of solidarity with the Black community was empowering and will hopefully usher in a new era of LGBTQ Black relations in St. Petersburg.” Longstreth lead the chant, prayers, and song during the vigil with his megaphone.
Claire Eli, founder of Project No Labels and co-host of the vigil, said of the event, “I’m proud of our community for stepping up in #solidarity with Pride and Black Lives Matter. When we made a call out, we had an overwhelming response from willing participants. I’m happy to be here in Tampa Bay and watch the growth the community has gone through over the past 10 years. “
Many comments of love and support have been posted on various social media channels in an effort to document the day. COVID-19 (and most likely the weather) might be the driving force to keep Pride away this year, but it won’t ever take Pride’s spirit.
Samantha Ponzillo Media was at the vigil with her camera and captured these photos for OutCoast.com: