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Organizers Prepare For St. Pete Pride In Wake Of Orlando Shooting

Jun 21, 2016

It's been a little over a week since a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. And in just a few days, the Tampa Bay area plays host to St. Pete Pride - Florida's biggest celebration for the LGBT community. 

Local residents spent this past weekend processing the tragedy, while also looking ahead. 

    

Cars arrive at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park in Tampa for the funeral of Christopher Sanfeliz, one of the 49 people killed in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Credit Quincy Walters / WSUF News

It was early Saturday morning at the Myrtle Hill Memorial Park in Tampa. Christopher Sanfeliz, 24, was being buried by his family. The Gaither High School graduate and banker was one of the 49 people killed at the Pulse night club in Orlando. 

The funeral procession passed by onlookers, like Cortney Akridge, who came to pay her respects. She didn't know Christopher, but said she feels connected as a member of the LGBT community. 

"I think it's important--in light of everything that's happened--that we unify and come together," she said. "All the LGBT family, friends and allies, and show our support for everyone involved in this tragedy."

Later in the day, across the bay in St. Petersburg, a Pride Pool Party took place at the Gay St. Pete House--a bed and breakfast. 

Ruben Anthony was sitting poolside. He just moved to the area from Los Angeles. He says he needs a drink to talk about what happened at Pulse. What happened in Orlando has made him more defiant about being out in the community. 

"It's just time to deal with it and go on and protect ourselves, and be more vigilant," he said. "You don't know who's out there anymore." 

Anthony said he'll be at St. Pete Pride this weekend. 

"If anything is going to happen, it's going to happen," he said. "We can't prevent it."

Stanley Solomons, a board member of St. Pete Pride, said a similar tragedy at the upcoming event can be prevented. He said organizers have met with city police and the Pinellas Sheriff's Office to talk about extra protection. The FBI will be there.

He said hateful people won't ruin Pride. 

"They're not going to stop this. If we stop this, or we make any major changes, then they've won and I don't want to see that happen. I don't think anyone of us wants to see that happen," Solomons said. "We wanna go on. That's it."

Pride flag, with a smiley face, blows in the wind at Gay St. Pete House.
Credit Quincy Walters / WSUF News

Saturday's parade will be the highlight of the annual Pride event.

Solomons said at its start, there will be a memorial for the victims of the Pulse massacre. A poster of each person who died will be carried.

And there'll be 17 minutes of silence--10 seconds for every person killed and injured. 

"I still have trouble talking about [Pulse]," Solomons said, choking up. "And I don't know how long it'll be until I can. But there has to be light ahead." 

Thoughts of the shooting were still very present later that Saturday night, at the Honey Pot night club. It's a LGBT club in Tampa's Ybor City. It's a place where the guys twerk better than the girls and where the girls have more game than the guys. 

Alisa Summers, a drag queen, dazzles the crowd at the Honey Pot.
Credit Quincy Walters / WSUF News

Before last weekend, security at the Honey Pot was light. But on Saturday night, two police officers stood at the door. The man checking I.D.s turned people away, telling them no one can carry bags inside. He checked pockets too. 

At a around 11:00 p.m., the club was pretty empty. Only a few people were dancing. But closer to midnight, the place started to fill up. People started dancing into each other. 

Then, a drag queen named Alisa Summers walked on stage in a neon pink and green unitard. She danced and sang along to a Justin Bieber tune on the catwalk. Then, she addressed the audience. 

"Yas! How we doin' tonight? Make some noise," she said.

The crowd cheered.

"How many homosexuals we got in the f***in' house?" she asked. The crowd cheered again. 

"Yas!" Summers shouted. "We gotta keep supporting our gay businesses. Thank you so much, so much for joining us tonight . . .  DJ take it away."

Rihanna's We Found Love started. 

It was a little after midnight, when a line started to form outside The Honey Pot. 

Jeffrey Ramsay was on line with a group of friends. He said by being there, he was taking a stand to simply live his life. 

"[I'm here] to go out and dance and have a good time and not have the fear of getting shot, because of  my life and what my life was destined to be," he said. 

For Tampa Bay's LGBT community, it wasn't just any weekend. It was a moment to remember the tragedy and Pulse and also a moment to live and look forward.

It was a time between Pulse and Pride.