OpEd: Orlando's Somber Memories impact St Pete's Pride

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When the first line of marchers in your pride parade walk silently while holding placards bearing the name of nearly 50 of your slain brothers and sisters... well, it's a sober reminder of the world we live in.

It was followed by rows and rows of participants waving to the crowd with one hand and holding small lit white candles in the other. Orlando would be remembered, the wounded acknowledged, the lives lost commemorated.

This majestic parade, however, typically months in the making, has been, year after year, the largest in the state. The pride parade in St. Petersburg, Florida is like no other. There are over 4,500 participants, and as many as 200,000 celebrants.

The first reaction you have to the mass of humanity lining downtown Central Avenue is how can this really be happening in freaking Florida?

Weren't we the state that banned gay adoption?

Don't we have scores of police agencies from the West Palm Beach sheriff to Tallahassee cops still trying to entrap and bust gay men for lewd acts?

Don't we have an attorney general who fought with her last ounce of energy to thwart marriage equality?

Wasn't it the present governor who couldn't use the phrase 'gays and lesbians' when describing the massacre of Latino LGBT people in Orlando?

But guess what? Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore.

What I have seen these past four weeks in South Florida, Orlando, Tampa and St. Pete is an awesome and historic display of LGBT solidarity. Stonewall was one small bar in one big city, but the tragedy on Disney's door has opened a floodgate of unprecedented unity.

From Mallory Square in Key West to the state house in Neanderthal Tallahassee, the LGBT community of the Sunshine State will be heard from, proudly and loudly, with friends, many friends, on our side.

It's telling that a score of corporations had floats in the St. Pete Parade, and not just Macy's. There was a cross-section of so many, from the Tampa Bay Rays to Bright House Networks, from Wells Fargo to GEICO to AT&T. But not just big businesses. Even local straight bars had floats in the big gay parade, over 150 of them.

"Look, half our staff is gay," one participant told me, "and we all are a community. After Orlando, everyone wanted to be there to show their support." Even locals were there, Rocky Bowell showcasing Pride Fort Lauderdale with a modest booth, and Peter Clark driving the Hotspots! van through the crowd.

As the parade moved along, the crowd became more celebratory. But there was little joy for law enforcement. They were on call, en masse, and on alert. The area was under surveillance from three skywatch towers, extra trailers of cameras borrowed from Tampa Police Department, an undercover officer operation and help from the FBI, Homeland Security, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The aura of Orlando was everywhere, from the 3,000 'We Are Orlando' t-shirts donated by the Tampa Bay Rays to the signs and banners blasted out on float after float. Still, this was a defiant celebration of life, a gathering saying we will not be denied. Nor can we be.

Life will return to normal as June ends and July 4th falls upon us. We will gather on beaches and watch the fireworks, listen to the Navy bands and the National anthem. The massacre in Orlando will fade a little bit each day, as the headlines drift to fires in California and floods in West Virginia. We will be lost in the frenzy.

The truth is we can't ever afford to forget what happened in Orlando. We were slaughtered and massacred and murdered for being gay and lesbian. We can't let that happen and go silently into our tomorrows. Each and every day you have a chance to be a voice for our rights, be that voice. Speak up, stand out, and make all our lives matter.

For the past two weeks, SFGN has increased its print run, printing and disseminating thousands of extra copies of our memorial editions to both Orlando and St. Pete, two amazing LGBT communities connected by the I-4 corridor.

Personally, I am humbled and grateful for the thanks and appreciation we have received from the leaders of these communities, who have so generously praised our efforts. Were we only able to so every week, I would.

We are all in this together, and our staff has worked ever so hard these past few weeks to do their part, creating a newspaper with compelling stories, original content and commemorative ads. It's time to recognize them and their hard work too, with back to back weekly issues of 88 and 72 pages. Whether you realize it or not, you are reading the largest gay weekly paper in the U.S. We are a free paper. We have only reached this plateau because of your support.

SFGN may not do floats in parades or throw big mixers in bars, but each and every week I hope we deliver a product that you can be proud of; a newspaper with a conscience and convictions, that you can proudly call your LGBT community newspaper.

Have a great 4th of July, remembering when the sky sparkles in the dark night, the lights are illuminating the lives of 49 of your brothers and sisters in Orlando.


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