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Pride Participants Don't Let Somber Tribute Stop The Party

This weekend’s annual St. Pete Pride parade started with a quiet tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

The 102 participants walked in silence, 49 of them holding a sign with the name and age of those killed two weeks ago, and 53 holding candles for each person injured.

Amanda Lyons of Bradenton watched from the sidelines.

"I wanted to cry, I really did,” Lyons said. “Just looking at that one person tore me to pieces it really did."

But the somber tone didn’t stop paradegoers from partying.

While thoughts of the Pulse nightclub massacre were present, this year’s St. Pete Pride still sounded and looked a lot like the city’s previous celebrations.

About 6,000 parade marchers, food vendors, musicians and an estimated 250,000 attendees crowded St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue near sunset for the 14th annual event that’s grown to become Florida’s biggest gay pride event.

A number of local residents who are part of the LGBT community said they came to celebrate life.

“The act of one person cannot keep us down,” said St. Pete Pride board member Jay Aller. “We are a resilient community and we will keep fighting. It is not a good idea to let that one act scare you into hiding. We are out, we’re proud, and we have to be to get the rights we deserve, the human rights.

Spring Hill resident Jackie Oman has attended Pride the past few years. She said she only briefly hesitated before deciding to attend.

“You can’t really live in fear of what happened,” Oman said. “You can’t be scared of who you are and going out in public. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let it affect the way you live your life.”

The celebration went on long after the sun went down. Throughout, Ohman and many others wore shirts serving as their own quiet vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Hers was homemade and adorned with a rainbow, the symbol of gay pride.

“The tragedy that took so many lives, wounded others and decimated our communities was an attack on our safe havens, our sensibilities and our friends," said Jeff Prystajko, director of marketing and communications for Come Out With Pride, the organization St. Pete Pride partnered with for the tribute to the Orlando shooting victims. "In the past whenever the LGBT community was faced with hatred, Pride events were a time when we could gather together to heal, to unite with our allies, to celebrate our common bonds and respond with love. St. Petersburg and Orlando are together in this."

“We need Pride now more than ever,” said Eric Skains, Executive Director of St Pete Pride.

To help quell the fears of a mass shooting like that in Orlando, St. Petersburg Police called in agencies to help during the Pride celebration – including the FBI and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

But police weren’t the ones on patrol this weekend.

Also attending the Saturday parade and Sunday street festival were the Guardian Angels, a group of volunteers that wear their own uniforms and conduct street patrols.  

Jack Hollandm with the St. Pete chapter, said the Angels are there to help law enforcement.

“Our real purpose is to serve as a visual deterrent if we can,” Holland said. “If we have to intervene in something, we will. But we try to be like ‘Hey, you see us out here. We’re going to tell on you or stop you.’ It’s every person’s right but we act on it.”

The weekend’s festivities wrapped up with a street festival on Sunday. 

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.