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Police chief focuses on Pride safety, not politics

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway points to a parade route map. Nicole Berman (right), executive director of St. Pete Pride, also participated in Tuesday's press conference. Photos by Mark Parker.

The St. Petersburg Police Department is preparing for over 100,000 people to descend upon the city’s downtown waterfront this weekend for annual LGBTQ Pride events.

Officials don’t anticipate any significant changes to celebrations, despite recently signed legislation that opponents believe unfairly targets the marginalized community. Police Chief Anthony Holloway noted that “it’s not our first rodeo” at the onset of a press conference Tuesday, where he discussed safety measures amid a contentious political climate.

According to Holloway, the only noteworthy difference is that the June 24 St. Pete Pride Parade will begin rather than end at Albert Whitted Park this year. He said city officials reversed the route to improve traffic flow and minimize disruptions.

One of the nation’s largest Pride parades will now end in Vinoy Park, where entertainment will continue into the night. Major Markus Hughes, SPPD’s LGBTQ liaison, noted community concerns regarding safety and how new laws will affect St. Pete Pride.

“The message is, you can come out; you can be yourself,” Hughes said. “You can dress how you want; you can express yourself.

“We’ve always had great compliance because everyone wants to have a good time.”

The parade will begin at Albert Whitted Park and end at Vinoy Park this year.

Nicole Berman, St. Pete Pride executive director, clarified that the dress code remains the same for one of the city’s most popular events: “If you can wear it to the beach, you can wear it to Pride.”

Holloways said a myriad of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies would help ensure attendees remain safe. However, he noted that is always the case.

Marine units will patrol the waterfront route, and SPPD Spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office air units will remain on standby in case of emergencies. She said the department typically does not release officer numbers but called it a “huge contingency.”

“We canceled all days off,” Fernandez added. “Everybody’s working.”

City officials will establish a “free speech zone” for event protestors at Central Avenue and Bayshore Drive, across from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Berman noted that people publicly object to the events annually, and she was unsure if there would be an increase this year.

However, she said that after the recent legislation, it is “more important than ever” for people to show up and support the LGBTQ community.

“This is a part of everyday life for so many people around the country,” Berman said. “We just encourage anybody who isn’t sure what drag looks like, who maybe isn’t sure what a Pride celebration looks like, to come on down and celebrate with us.

“It is an all-ages event. Family-focused and family-friendly. Always has been and always will be.”

Holloway stressed that his focus is keeping attendees safe. He encouraged people to report anything or anyone suspicious by calling 911 or one of the department’s tip lines.

Holloway told the Catalyst that officers continue monitoring online activity for people who look to create a disturbance and would address those instances “as we see fit.” He elaborated that “we haven’t seen anything recently” and said the department increased those efforts after the June 16, 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

“We’ve had people come in and protest but at the same time, people have been very respectful of each other,” Holloway said. “That’s what we expect this year, and we’re not going to tolerate anything else.”

St. Petersburg’s Pride Parade is the largest in the Southeast. Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

A new law prohibits knowingly admitting a minor to adult performances, including drag shows. When asked if St. Pete Pride would feature those performers, Berman said live performances encompassing “all kinds of entertainment” would occur Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m. at Vinoy Park.

“We don’t anticipate that any of those performances will violate any laws,” she added. “We reached out to all of our performers and are pretty clear on what is and isn’t allowed.”

Holloway explained that officers would first contact Berman – who employs parade marshals that help ensure compliance with local and state regulations – if anything is amiss. Those in violation will receive a warning before law enforcement takes further action.

While Berman and SPPD officials sought to alleviate any safety or legal concerns, Holloway did urge caution over one activity – parking at the St. Pete Pier. He said those lots would close at 4:30 p.m. and wouldn’t reopen until much later Saturday night.

For more information on St. Pete Pride, visit the website here.

 

 

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