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PrideFest combines business and pleasure

Parties, picnics, awards ceremonies and entertainment are highlights of the weekend.

By AMY ABBOTT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 5, 2001


photo
[Publicity Photo]
Chi Chi LaRue will perform Friday at the Hotter than July Kick-Off Party at the Factory, 802 E Whiting St. in Tampa.
This weekend is about recognizing achievement. It's about getting ahead in the business world. It's about being a productive member of your community. It's about taking pride in who you are.

Tampa's 16th annual PrideFest will begin Friday evening with an awards ceremony to honor the three inductees into the Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame.

First is the Rev. Karen Ducham of Tampa's Metropolitan Ministries, who led efforts to add "sexual orientation" to the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County human rights ordinances.

The second inductee is the late activist Dana Whitehurst, who organized the first Tampa Bay Pride celebration in 1985.

The Equality Florida Youth Lobby Team, the final honoree, made headlines in Tallahassee by talking about experiences with violence and persecution in Florida's school system. Despite State Rep. Allen Trovillion (R-Winter Park) telling them God would "destroy them," and America's downfall would be on their conscience, the group persevered.

That kind of progress in the face of opposition is part of the festival's mission.

"When the Klan would show up (at the festival), it made people realize that if they didn't get involved, these people would be making decisions for us," said Don Bentz, President of Tampa Bay Pride. "They were like a lightning rod bringing attention to us."

Safety is less of a concern now that groups such as the Klan haven't been appearing at PrideFest in a number of years. But from the beginning, PrideFest has had the support of several Tampa police officers and bay area businesses.

"The relationship between us and the police department has always been good," said Bentz. "Some off-duty officers always volunteer to do security at our events."

The number of volunteers keeps growing each year along with the crowds. In the past five years, attendance has grown from around 6,000 to about 27,000. What keeps the crowds coming back is the festival's eclectic mix of business and entertainment.

"There's no such thing as your typical gay, lesbian, transgender person," Bentz said. "We have to come up with a lineup of business supporters that actually reaches all segments of our population."

Bentz says having the companies such as Chase and Bud Light at the festival gives assurance that people in the business world supports them.

As for the entertainment, the festival kicks off with the Lady Chablis, the entertainer, author and actor best known for her role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the book and the movie). The Lady, now a St. Petersburg resident, will be the emcee at Friday night's Meet the Stars reception and Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Community Awards. She will return Saturday to perform her cabaret act at the Tampa Bay Business Guild PrideExpo.

Parties and picnics throughout Tampa will pepper the weekend, mixing with discussions of gay-rights issues.

As for the Grand Marshal, the last-minute pick is a real survivor against opposition: Tammy Faye Messner.

Like entertainers such as Liza Minnelli and Cher, Messner is a heterosexual woman who has become a sort of unofficial icon for gay men and a crusader for gay rights.

She has a history of standing against anti-gay discrimination since her evangelical days with then-husband Jim Bakker. Her recent movie, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, was produced by two gay men and narrated by RuPaul.

In the movie, she speaks of her short-lived talk show with gay comedian Jim J. Bullock: "I never thought of him as gay," Tammy Faye said. "I thought of him as another human being I loved."

- Amy Abbott can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or abbott@sptimes.com

PREVIEW

2001 Tampa Bay PrideFest, Friday through Sunday at venues including Tampa Gas Light Park and the Center. Event costs vary. Call (813) 854-8160, or check www.pridetampabay.com.

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