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Color this parade diverse

St. Pete Pride has detractors, but more participants.

Published July 1, 2007

Central Avenue was teeming with people during Saturday afternoon's St. Pete Pride Street Festival, which followed the Promenade.
[Times photo: Ted McLaren]
[Times photo: Martha Rial]
Randy "Phyllis Denmark" Patterson , of St Petersburg waits for the start of the 5th annual St Pete Pride Promenade to begin in St Petersburg. Pattterson recently moved to St Petersburg from New Orleans.

ST. PETERSBURG - Together, Dani Skrzypek and Deb Robinson carried a heart-shaped sign. On it they had written their various identities: mother, daughter, friend, business owner. And in the middle of the heart, in the largest type, they wrote "14 years."

That's how long they've been together.

"We're here just to show people there's more than the stereotype, " said Skrzypek, 62, while marching in the St. Pete Pride Promenade on Saturday. "We're part of a group of committed, same-sex couples and we do a lot of middle-class activities like potlucks."

The St. Petersburg couple were but two of an estimated 70, 000 people who attended the St. Pete Pride parade and street festival. Police put the figure at around 40, 000, but said some people may have come and left by the time they made their survey.

As a group, they defied stereotyping. There was a Marine sniper who was wounded in Iraq; a retired Episcopal minister; a registered nurse; an aspiring interior designer.

And, of course, about 20 protesters also attended.

Four of them were arrested for violating the city ordinance governing the parade by carrying large signs into the street festival into a restricted area. Those arrested were: Joshua Pettigrew, 21, of Grenville, Ga.; Douglas C. Pitts, 50, of Newnan, Ga.; Willie Lee Holt III, 31, of Jefferson, Ga.; and Francis W. Primavera, 25 of Hogansville, Ga.

A fifth person, Shelah Walker, 56, of St. Petersburg, was charged with disorderly conduct. Police said she threw a drink at a protester, but missed its target and splashed bystanders, including an officer.

"It wouldn't be the same if there weren't any demonstrators, " joked Tom Costella, 57, moments after a protester told him to repent or face the fires of hell. "If they couldn't be here, that would be trouble for me and everybody else, " because all were there to exercise their free speech rights.

The festivities began about 10 a.m. Saturday with a parade that started in front of Georgie's Alibi at 3100 Third Ave. N. It then snaked through the Kenwood neighborhood and along Central Avenue. People lining the route called for beads, whistled at drag queens and snapped photographs.

Susan Stanton, formerly Largo City Manager Steve Stanton, was the parade's grand marshal, waving from a Mercedes-Benz convertible.

"It truly is a rainbow of people ... big, tall, older, younger, " Stanton said, posing for pictures before the parade began.

St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett and state Rep. Bill Heller, both Democrats, passed out beads along the parade route. Representatives for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich and Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kevin Beckner also were part of the parade.

At the corner of Third Avenue N and 31st Street stood Brad Cheathan, 42, who held a placard that read, "Sodomites are vile, unnatural and worthy of death."

Cheathan, a truck driver, had driven to St. Petersburg the night before with a group from Faith Baptist Church in Newnan, Ga.

"We're here because 20 years ago I was a Beatles junkie. I was in the dregs of society, and God saved my soul and my life, " Cheathan said. "These sodomites don't deserve hell any more than I did."

Fuming, David Schauer, 47, a St. Petersburg lawyer, walked up to Cheathan and said the Bible also preached about love.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, " Schauer said.

The parade ended about 12:30 p.m., and the street festival along Central Avenue began with hundreds of vendors lining the street. Music blared, people danced, protesters still protested.

Brian Stucker, 34, just took it all in. Beads piled around his neck, the wounded Marine smiled. A year ago, he said he returned from Baghdad with a bullet wound in his back and his knees failing. Now he's a bouncer at Georgie's.

"This is just about people getting together and having a good time, " he said.

Clara McCormick, 52, looked for a sliver of shade. She and a friend began talking about other Pride events they had attended. McCormick remembered one in Providence, R.I., about 25 years ago. Only 50 people and no vendors showed.

Looking across Central Avenue, the street teeming with life and music and people and gay friendly businesses, she laughed.

"This is progress, " she said.

Times staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 30, 2007, 23:54:38]

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