Today we hear from John and Nancy Desmond of PFLAG Tampa, reporting on their experiences as the Grand Marshals of St. Pete Pride!
Last Saturday night, just as the sun set on the horizon, the excitement on the PFLAG Tampa float and among the marchers was over the top. We were so ready! We could see movement in front of us – the lights from emergency vehicles and motorcycles, then the car lights from the male and female grand marshals. As we started to move, we realized that, as the organizational Grand Marshal of the largest Pride parade in the Southeast, we were the very first float and that ahead of us, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, 170,000 people awaited to cheer us on! We screamed in anticipation as our float lit up, jolted, and started to move!
At the head of our entourage was the 10-foot PFLAG Tampa Grand Marshal banner that had been given to us by St. Pete Pride as winners of their competition to pick this year's Grand Marshal. Behind the banner four students from the Trans+ Student Union at the University of South Florida, who are attendees at our meetings carried four flags: the Pride rainbow flag, the Bisexual flag, and, in a statement to be extra-inclusive of the T, we flanked them with TWO Transgender flags.
Behind the flags, came our lit-up float, belting out “We Are Family” over blaring loudspeakers. The 35'-foot-long float was a surprise gift to us from St. Pete Pride. It was lit and decorated - all we had to do was add our own branding and riders. We took out the thrones and added a 5' square PFLAG logo made from petal paper, along with other decorations adhering to our theme of “Love Wins.” Our branding purposely left off the word “Tampa,” and used PFLAG only, since we knew many of the votes came to us from people who had family members who had been helped by PFLAG chapters across the US. Following the float were marchers who were tossing out 30 gross of beads, which disappeared about halfway through the parade. Bringing up the rear, was the Care with Pride “One Mother's Love” banner.
All told, about 60 PFLAGers, decked out in light-up, heart-shaped deely-boppers, glow necklaces, Love Wins T-Shirts, Care with Pride T-Shirts, and special Grand Marshal beads greeted screaming, waving, cheering throngs who seemed to be making the effort to make eye contact and smile in order to express gratitude for the difference PFLAG made in their lives. Or maybe they just wanted beads! Each float-rider carried a sign custom-tailored to express their love for a specific loved one: gay son, lesbian daughter, 2 moms, etc. Our message was clearly, “We love you,” and their message was, just as clearly, “We love you, too!” Can you imagine?! To a person, we all said it was everything we imagined it would be, and then some!
Despite blistering heat, the festival the next day attracted 50,000 people, many of whom were drawn to our booth where we proudly displayed our Grand Marshal banner. We saw old friends from PFLAG meetings who made a point to seek us out, as well as many other LGBT organizations who were anxious to join us in various advocacy efforts.
This year is going to be a busy year! Continuing the theme of Love Wins, we offered, for a small donation, buttons that said, “I Love My Gay Son, I Love My Transgender Spouse, I Love My Lesbian Cousin,” etc. in just about every LGBT designation. We displayed our Care With Pride
posters (as we did on the float as well), and gave out the coupons from our booth. We also enclosed coupons in our goodie bags which had smiley-face bubble necklaces attached, so they were eagerly grabbed up. We have been supporting the efforts of a new chapter of PFLAG Pinellas (the county in which St. Petersburg is located), and a sign-up sheet for them at our booth garnered many signatures. Being Grand Marshal certainly gave us all the positive exposure we had hoped for!
In addition to the parade and festival, we also had opportunities to address the public, and meet & greet at social events leading up to the weekend. We were pulled on to the stage at at several Pride events, including at the Fine Arts Museum which included former governor Charlie Crist, and attended a Pride-sponsored Mary Lambert concert. The executive director of St. Pete Pride always introduced us by pointing out that PFLAG was marching in gay pride parades before they were called pride parades. We were extremely happy with newspaper interviews that always picked up our theme of love and acceptance. Of the newspaper interviews, the most interesting to us was the one by our conservative hometown paper, the Plant City Observer. Up to this time, a search on their website for the words 'gay,' 'lesbian,' bisexual,' or 'transgender' returned no results. Now they have one!
And this young reporter really understood our message!
In a typical PFLAG story that PFLAGers have come to experience more and more often, a neighbor whom we know quite well, stopped our car on the street this morning to talk to us. He said he had seen the newspaper article, and wanted to tell us how much he liked it. It turns out his son was gay, and had died of AIDS. We had no idea. Now we have a connection with him, and hopefully we have given him a voice. PFLAGers do that everyday when we publicly share our stories and our love.
Thanks, PFLAG! The message we received loud and clear is that you are changing lives!!