How welcoming is Tampa Bay for the LGBTQ+ community?
For the first time David Fischer, who has made a name for himself in St. Pete’s flourishing gay community through his business ventures, is considering not including a drag queen to ride on his float for the St. Pete Pride Parade June 24.
“It’s disappointing, we’ve always had a drag queen, but I can’t afford to lose my liquor license. Today, a license costs $700,000 in Pinellas County,” Fischer said, who runs The Cocktail Bar, The Saint Speakeasy and the newly opened The Wet Spot pool bar. “We are in an unwelcoming climate, but that’s not on our local leaders who have long supported the community.”
The newfound fear of the government potentially stripping away his license due to having a drag queen on a float comes after national headlines captured Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move to revoke the liquor license for the Hyatt Regency Miami. The state alleges the resort hosted a drag show where minors were present.
In addition to concerns with the programming for the parade, The Cocktail Bar was also recently vandalized, with a homophobic slur written on the window.
“When I opened Cocktail, I wanted a bar that would rival bars serving the straight community. I was very conscientious about the safety measures,” Fischer said, sharing his gratitude to the St. Petersburg Police Department and its LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) liaison for working with him and finding the perpetrator.
“As an LGBT business owner, it can make you doubt your investments at times for safety reasons because of the political climate we are in, but I do feel St. Pete is much safer and inclusive than some other cities I’ve been to and lived in,” said Fischer, who also owns the ZaZoo’d retail shop and is in the process of converting the Mari Jean Hotel into an adults-only gay resort.
“I’ve never experienced any issues with ZaZoo’d, which opened during the Rick Kriseman administration. I remember Kriseman coming into the shop during holidays to support us. He went above and beyond to be inclusive,” Fischer recalled. “At Cocktail, he would come in and sing karaoke.”
Jim Nixon, the LGBTQ+ liaison for St. Petersburg, working with Kriseman and current mayor Ken Welch, can recall when the city received a score of 30 out of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which elevates cities on how inclusive its laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ+ people.
Today, the city has achieved a perfect score of 100 for the ninth consecutive year. Welch has also been an active supporter, attending the LGBT caucus in January, and delivering proclamations during community and leadership events.
He attended the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber conference in February, stating, “It’s a no-brainer DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] should be something that we are proud of, that we talk about and that we celebrate.”
A look at the city’s latest accolades:
The following information was collected from the city’s LGBTQ resources webpage.
- The city proclaims March 31st as Transgender Day of Visibility.
- USAToday rates St. Pete Pride the No. 2 Pride Festival in the nation.
- The city develops an anti-bullying policy and reporting procedure that accounts for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to protect youth served by the city’s parks and recreation department.
- The city begins tracking LGBTQ-owned businesses as part of its inclusionary measures for small business entities and the city’s procurement of goods and services.
- In response to the pandemic and the cancellation of St. Pete Pride, the city creates a visual event, Light Up With Pride, to light up iconic buildings throughout the city in rainbow colors.
- The city lights the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge in rainbow colors celebrating the Stonewall Anniversary and St. Pete Pride.
- The city proclaims March 31st as Transgender Day of Visibility.
- LGBTQ Liaison Jim Nixon is chosen as a Grand Marshall for the 2022 St. Pete Pride parade.
- The city proclaims November 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Nixon also said that the annual St. Pete Pride Parade, held in June, is the city’s largest event, generating at least $67 million in economic impact. Last year, over 300,000 people attended the parade.
Despite newly filed bills directly targeting the community that could impact cities, such as House Bill 1011 (banning local governments to fly a Pride flag), Welch and Tampa’s Mayor Jane Castor say they are still planning to proudly raise their Pride flags in June to celebrate Pride month.
“Until the bills are enacted, will address them. As of now, there’s no reason to stipulate what we do,” Nixon said.
In an emailed statement, Castor said, “In Tampa, we celebrate our diversity. Our city was founded on it. Two key factors will help us continue to build on this welcoming culture: we are a top relocation destination for younger generations, and these generations – Democrats and Republicans alike – bring with them a belief in equality for LGBT Americans. Over time, today’s younger generations will be leading this city and state. And it is good business to support equality because companies do not want to bring jobs and tax revenue to cities and states that are not a welcoming environment for their employees.
“Don’t like drag shows? Don’t go to one. Don’t like right-wing churches? Don’t go to one. Our city has a diversity of lifestyles but what we have in common is that we have a great sense of community that includes everyone. This is something we work to preserve each and every day. I oppose any legislation or rhetoric that seeks to demonize groups of people, divide our communities, encourage violence or limit our freedom of speech. Right now, we are trying to determine which bills are moving forward and which are simply political statements.”
Former St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice, the first openly gay candidate to run for office in Pinellas County, also shared her viewpoint.
“St. Pete is notably known for gay-friendly neighborhoods, that LGBTQ progress was not inevitable, it was always hard fought for and won. When I walk down Central Avenue and I see younger same-sex couples holding hands, it makes me so proud because we’ve built a city where people feel safe, I don’t see that unwinding. Our tolerance and love are part of who we are.
“The DeSantis attack against Disney World (revoking Disney World’s designation as a special tax district), never made sense to me, given in Florida we rely on the tourism industry, we don’t have a state income tax, and the tourism industry is the goose that lays the golden egg. I do worry about what the government is willing to sacrifice. Nor can we take it for granted. Fortune 500 CEOs know when you have a workforce, you look to hire the best and brightest from all walks of life, it’s a smart move for any local government or corporation to embrace that,” Rice said.
“I’m not ready to give up on our good side and our better nature as a country. People have kindness, respect and tolerance and genuinely listen to others who are different. The pendulum can’t swing back fast enough. We are going through a difficult time in history and now more than ever, we need to be a voice.”
Darden commended Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith as a leader championing the LGBTQ community’s rights.
Smith, recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022, said, “Unfortunately, the damage DeSantis is doing to our state’s reputation is beginning to cause harm to the wonderful cities that are concerned about improving the quality of life for residents.”
For example, House Bill 1223 proposes to restrict the use of gender pronouns in school.
“Polling shows that parents of LGBTQ+ students are contemplating leaving the state to keep children safe from censorship, discrimination and government surveillance,” Smith said. “For local elected officials who want to respond to this political terrorism, remember the values you said when you ran for office. Speak about equal protection under the law and the importance of diversity.”
Equality Florida has listed more than 20 proposed anti-LGBT bills on its website that it’s fighting. The full list can be found here.