News (USA)

Tampa Pride cancels event because of Ron DeSantis’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ laws

A rainbow Pride flag with Pride on the River written on it.
Past Pride on the River events have reportedly attracted 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to the area. Photo: Screenshot/WFLA

Another Florida town has canceled an upcoming Pride event after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed several anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law this week.

On Wednesday, Tampa Pride announced that it had canceled its annual Pride on the River festival citing H.B. 1438, an anti-drag law signed by the governor earlier the same day, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

H.B. 1438 is one of five anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law by DeSantis this week in what Equality Florida senior political director Joe Saunders called the largest slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills to be signed in a single legislative session in Florida’s history. The new law allows state boards to revoke the business licenses of any venues that allow minors to see “an adult live performance.” While the text of the bill does not mention drag, a handout from the governor’s Wednesday news conference stated that drag shows are considered adult live performances “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” NBC affiliate WFLA reports.

In past years, Tampa’s outdoor, family-friendly Pride on the River event featured fireworks, drag brunches, and drag performances along the downtown Tampa Riverwalk. For the September 2023 event, organizers aimed to create an adults-only area where drag performances could take place, as they had for their Pride parade in March but were unable to find a location that could be fenced off, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“We just said, you know what, we are afraid if we did go through with this [DeSantis] would come in with his Gestapo… not Tampa Police, because we’re working with them, but maybe another group, and they’d all just pull the plug on it,” said Tampa Pride president Carrie West.  

West noted that people travel to Tampa for the event, which has in the past featured appearances by RuPaul’s Drag Race alums like Alyssa Edwards, Ra’Jah O’Hara, and Jiggly Caliente. According to West, past festivals have attracted 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to the area. Tampa Pride will lose nearly $100,000 by canceling, and the city will no longer economically benefit from the festival or its sponsors, WFLA reports.

“It’s disappointing to hear Tampa Pride on the River is canceled,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “But it doesn’t change the fact that Tampa is and always will be an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community.”

Organizers said that the Tampa Pride Parade is still scheduled to take place next spring, and they plan to bring back Pride on the River in 2024.

The festival isn’t the only Florida Pride event to be canceled this year. Last month, a Pride organization in St. Lucie, Florida, was forced to cancel its parade and restrict its festival to ages 21 and up in anticipation of DeSantis signing the anti-drag bill.

Meanwhile, Pride organizations across the country have had to re-think their events or cancel them altogether as Republican lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced bills aimed at banning drag shows.

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