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St. Pete raises rainbow flag to usher in LGBT festival

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— For the first time in the city’s history, a rainbow flag flies over City Hall.

Mayor Rick Kriseman hoisted the symbol of LGBT pride this morning to usher in the St. Pete Pride parade and festival and related events taking place this weekend.

Kriseman said the flag is emblematic of the city’s evolving attitude toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons and others who defy conventional expectations of gender.

“I look back on the first year that we had the parade here in St. Pete, and I compare it to what we saw last year, and it’s a very different city,” Kriseman said. “The number of protesters is very different. That just shows that we’ve grown; that we’ve become that city that is inclusive, that is diverse.”

The audience of several dozen people at the 9 a.m. flag raising consisted of members of the LGBT community, organizers of St. Pete Pride as well as arts, tourism and economic development advocates.

Kriseman, in his first year as mayor, is suporting Pride events in a way past administrations markedly did not. For City Councilwoman Darden Rice, who was elected in November, the event had a particular significance.

“There’s been a sea change, and elections matter,” she said. “In this last election we voted in a mayor who is gay-friendly, very supportive, and also two new councilmembers, of which I’m one, who are openly gay, bringing the total number to three of eight.”

George Medeiros, who with his partner, Scott Durfee, are the creators of the wearable art line Spathose, said he has seen the evolution of local attitudes toward the LGBT community.

“We moved here in 2003, and seeing the progress for the LGBT community has been astounding,” he said.

St. Pete Pride, like other festivals of its kind across the country, aims to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an LGBT uprising against law enforcement on June 28, 1969, in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The event is considered the start of the LGBT equality movement. Forty-five years later, pop culture largely has come to embrace the community, though the debate about same-sex marriage rages on.

In St. Petersburg, this is the first year official Pride festivities will cover several days, the main events of which are a night parade on Saturday and a day festival on Sunday. St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains said he expects the events to draw more than 100,000 people. What doesn’t hurt, he said, is the the city’s overall acceptance of gays, something he noticed when moving here a little more than a year ago.

“What’s unique about it is, I’ve been saying for a while, that there’s no gay district in St. Petersburg,” he said. “That kind of threw me back a little. I was like, where do I go? I found out you can go anywhere. You can go downtown, you can go to Grand Central District, Midtown, the Gateway area. Anywhere in St. Petersburg you can go and feel comfortable, and there really isn’t a need for a gay district in St. Pete.”

The Pride flag, which can be seen above City Hall at 175 Fifth St. N., will fly through Monday.

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