In the aftermath of the June 12 tragedy in an Orlando LGBT nightclub that has been described as the worst mass shooting in American history, the city of St. Petersburg has beefed up security for the 14th annual LGBT Pride Parade and street festival scheduled for June 25 and 26, with Mayor Rick Kriseman declaring, “we’re not afraid.”
In a Thursday, June 16 press conference, Kriseman said, “We firmly believe the best way to honor those who lost their lives, those who were injured, and the entire community is to make sure that we continue to participate in a great event.”
City officials are expecting a weekend crowd numbering from 70,000 to 100,000.
“I think it’s the largest Pride event in the southeastern United States if not one of the largest in the country,” said Kriseman. “We feel very fortunate that we are the home and we get to host it here in St. Petersburg.
“Our number one job is to ensure the safety of everyone participating,” he said. “In light of what occurred, we have to adjust accordingly.”
After the shooting, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Pride officials discussed the questions: “Do we change the hours? Instead of having it at night, do we have it during the day because we can see more?” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
“I have to give my staff credit,” said Holloway. They said changing plans would be like “giving in. We’re changing our lifestyle to them. No! We’re going to have it like we normally have it and we’re just going to make it safer.”
The city has reached out to the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Clearwater and Tampa police departments, and the Pinellas and Hillsborough sheriff’s departments.
“We can make sure this is going to be a safe event like always,” said Holloway.
The public will see a lot of uniformed officers from different agencies, said Holloway.
“What’s most important is there’s going to be a lot of detectives out there that you’re not going to see,” he said. “They’ll be walking, working the crowd and looking around.”
Two sky towers borrowed from the Pinellas and Hillsborough sheriff’s departments will give law enforcements officials a high view of the area, including the parade on Saturday evening and the street festival on Sunday.
The chief emphasized that participants should not carry weapons.
“I know a lot of people involved in this event would like to have armed security on their floats,” said Holloway. “We don’t need that. If you have a weapon, leave it home. Let law enforcement do their jobs.”
If participants see anything suspicious, Holloway said they should use their cell phones to take photos then text them to the anonymous tip411. For more information, visit police.stpete.org/solve-crime/tip411.html
“Detectives that are working our will see it and they’ll get it out to the people in the field,” said Holloway.
The city of Gulfport will be represented in Saturday’s parade by people in the 28-passenger Gulfport Trolley, a float sponsored by the Merchants Association and by two former Gecko queens, Faun Weaver and Wesley Sloat, who will be carrying a special banner that says, “Gulfport Stands with Orlando.” The association will also have a booth at Sunday’s festival.
Paul Ray, Gulfport Merchants Association board member in charge of the float and booth, said the extra security measures made him feel more comfortable. “Personally, the shooting in Orlando is all the more reason to attend,” he added. “It’s a show of defiance and solidarity with Orlando.”
Ray will be wearing a black t-shirt that shows his support for Orlando.
“I worry about safety,” said Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson. “Security is clearly on everyone’s mind.” Henderson had planned to be out of town for this year’s Pride parade, an event he has participated in the past. But, he said, “now, it’s more important that I participate.”
Will he do anything differently this time? “I’ll be more vigilant than in years past,” he said.