TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Organizers of Tampa Pride on the River have cancelled one of the region’s largest pride celebrations, citing the expansion of the Parental Rights in Education Act — what critics call the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law.
“Really, I’m sorry,” said Tampa Pride President Carrie West, who confirmed the news on Thursday. “I’m sorry that this has happened, but you are going to be the generation to make the change.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB-1438, titled “Protection of Children,” into law in Tampa on Wednesday. The bill allows the state to “fine, suspend, or revoke the license of any public lodging establishment or public food service establishment if the establishment admits a child to an adult live performance.”
Unlike Tampa Pride’s parade in March, West said drag queens perform in the open at the festival, which could be a violation of the new law.
“Very sad,” said West. “Because this was a very fun event. People already, they’ve been talking about it, they’ve been making plans to come to Tampa, fly to Tampa, drive to Tampa.”
The September festival attracts 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to the Riverwalk and Armature Works area, according to West.
“Lot of famous Ru Paul drag queens that come in for the event,” said West. “People come flying in for that event just to see the famous drag queens.”
Lambda Legal, a leading national LGBTQ rights organization, called the legislation “an anti-drag bill seeking to censor art.”
“We receive this as it is intended, as an all-out attack on freedom,” Joe Saunders, Senior Political Director with Equality Florida, said in a news conference after Wednesday’s bill signing.
The advocacy organization said the package was the largest slate of anti-LGBTQ bills to be signed in a single legislative session in Florida’s history.
“We’re protecting kids,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis during the bill signing. “And we’re going to protect kids when it’s popular, we’ll protect kids even when you take some incoming as a result of maybe offending some ideologies or some agendas out there, but that’s fine.”
Drag performances are not mentioned in the bill, but a handout from the governor’s news conference Wednesday stated that drag shows are considered adult live performances “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for the age of the child present,” according to the text of the bill.
“The other side believes that 8-year-olds should pick their pronouns,” said State Rep. Randy Fine on Wednesday. “That 9-year-olds should read books about sex, that 10-year-olds should be able to take puberty blockers.”
Tampa Pride said the organization will lose nearly $100,000 by canceling, and the city will no longer economically benefit from the festival or the sponsors.
The first Pride on the River event took place along the downtown Tampa Riverwalk last year. Organizers were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to restrict who sees the performances since the event takes place in such a large, open area. Rather than risk the licenses of participating businesses, organizers canceled the event altogether.
“It’s disappointing to hear Tampa Pride on the River is canceled,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in response to the news. “But it doesn’t change the fact that Tampa is and always will be an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community.”
The cancellation has other pride organizations worried too.
“Seeing an organization have to make the really tough decision to cancel their event is saddening,” said Dr. Byron Green-Calisch with St. Pete Pride.
But St. Pete Pride said their festival in June is still happening.
“We are committed to serving our community,” said Green-Calisch. “And putting on an event that allows for people that identify as LGBTQIA+ to come out and celebrate joy.”
St. Pete Pride organizers said they are working closely with the city to ensure they’re following all rules and regulations.
Tampa Pride Parade is still scheduled to take place next spring, and organizers said Pride on the River will return in September 2024.