Mayor Rick Kriseman marked the start of St. Pete Pride, a month-long commemoration of the LGBTQ community, by raising the Pride flag at City Hall Monday morning.
The annual occasion was a much more somber event than in previous years.
The flag-raising was only a few feet away from the City Hall steps, where less than two days earlier a group had gathered to protest the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody in Minneapolis. That initial protest led to marches through downtown St. Petersburg and a subsequent protest at the St. Petersburg police headquarters, where 14 people were arrested Sunday night.
Kriseman and other participants at the flag-raising wore masks as protection amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the mayor highlighted the convergence of all three events.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, including one of our LGBTQ champions here in St. Pete, Mr. Bob Barnum. Today when we raise the flag we also pay tribute to him and all others,” Kriseman said. “We are also in the middle of a time of civil unrest. I know this is not unfamiliar territory for our LGBTQ community. After all, it was just last year that we marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. And this is certainly not unfamiliar territory as it relates to race in America. In fact, sadly it’s all too common.
“I want every resident of this city to know that your city leadership – every elected official, our city team, our police officers – we grieve and feel anger. Not over just the loss of George Floyd’s life, but the racial injustice that is pervasive in our society. We too have had enough,” Kriseman said.
While not forgetting the pandemic and racial inequities, Kriseman said he wanted to look ahead to better days.
“We won’t be having a Pride parade or festival this year, but we will still celebrate and there will still be a lot of pride in our community,” he said.
St. Pete Pride has cancelled all large in-person events originally scheduled for June 22-28, the toughest decision the organization has ever made, said board vice president Nathan Bruemmer. He cited the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare for the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a different Pride month in acknowledging where we are at right now in this country. It’s a moment to recognize the inter-generational trauma the country has faced, our history, the anguish and pain of systemic racism and our systems of power,” Bruemmer said.
The mission of St. Pete Pride is to promote unity and the visibility of the community, and raise all the voices within the LGBTQ community including all people of color, he said.
“We have a history that unfortunately is fragmented and also has not often enough lifted up the voices of the marginalized, but our mission at St. Pete Pride, the work we’ve done … everything has been about elevating and holding our own organizations accountable to leading with an anti-racist lens,” Bruemmer said.
In lieu of in-person events, the city has teamed up with community organizations to light landmark buildings in rainbow colors at least one evening during the month. The first Light Up with Pride event is tonight.