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Tampa welcomes gay pride gathering
Mayor Pam Iorio and a county commissioner contrast city support with a county ban on recognizing events.
By Catherine E. Shoichet, Times Staff Writer
Published February 24, 2008
Mayor Pam Iorio welcomes people to Winter Pride at Al Lopez Park on Saturday while Kevin Clifford of Seminole stands with an umbrella he made.
[Kathleen Flynn | Times]
TAMPA - Mayor Pam Iorio started the weekend's Winter Pride celebration Saturday morning with a strong message of support for the city's gay residents.
"I'm so pleased that this event is growing in our community," she told hundreds of people at Al Lopez Park. "I want Tampa to be a city for everyone."
Iorio's brief speech came several weeks after she cited the event as a reason why city and county parks departments should not merge.
After her speech Saturday, she again sharply criticized Hillsborough County's 2005 ban of county recognition of gay pride events.
"That is still on the books today," she said. "I am never going to put a segment of our community at risk."
Members of Tampa's gay community started Winter Pride Tampa Bay in response to the ban. The city co-sponsored Saturday's "Pride in the Park" celebration, providing a stage, park staffing and police for crowd control.
County Commissioner Rose Ferlita also attended Saturday's event.
"Hillsborough County hasn't been very welcoming," she said. "I wanted to come here to say that's got to change. I wish I could have said that to more people."
Ferlita was scheduled to speak at a midday rally, which organizers hoped would draw thousands to the park. They canceled the event after torrential rains drenched the crowd and lightning threatened.
But the rain did little to dampen participants' enthusiasm.
"We're going to stay till the sun starts shining," said Arlene Liz of Tarpon Springs.
In dozens of booths, vendors advertised gay-friendly businesses, products and churches.
"It's good to feel a sense of community," said Kirsten Richter, 40, of Cape Coral, who drove hours to come to Winter Pride with her partner and two children. "It's also very good to see people out here pushing voting."
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union recruited volunteers for its fight against a proposed ban on gay marriage. Hillary Clinton supporters sold bumper stickers and buttons.
Nearby Penni Nehri Cobb leaped over puddles, carrying a basket stuffed with Barack Obama T-shirts.
"I'm taking advantage of every single minute," she said, between shouts to sell the shirts.
Others sent quieter messages.
For a few minutes, Kevin Clifford held his bead-covered umbrella over the mayor's head. "Tom and Kevin: Holy Union," it said. The 46-year-old Seminole resident spent three weeks making it.
He told Iorio she should run for governor.
On top of his umbrella, a rainbow flag and an American flag fluttered in the rain.
Times photographer Kathleen Flynn contributed to this report. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at email@example.com or 813 661-2454.