May 22, 2023 - News

Scoop: Tampa Pride's troubles go beyond DeSantis

a large rainbow flag being carried during the pride parade in ybor

A scene from the Tampa Pride 2023 parade in March. Photo courtesy of Dave Decker/Creative Loafing

Tampa Pride's president warned that the parade in March could be its last for awhile in light of a slate of anti-LGBTQ+ laws recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • But after the organization recently canceled its next big festival, former board members say the only thing stopping Tampa Pride from putting on events is its own leadership.

Driving the news: Tampa Pride president Carrie West told several local news outlets last week that the nonprofit canceled its Pride on the River festival, set for September, because of a new law that limits drag performances.

Yes, but: Several former board members told Axios the real reason is that Tampa Pride has lost the support it takes to run big events.

  • "There's just not manpower there to plan and run a Pride on the River," former board member Cassandra Hair told Axios. "The way this organization is run is heartbreaking. This community deserves so much more."
  • "They've lost all their allies, all their supporters, anybody that would help put on events," another former board member, Mark Early, told Axios.
  • West denied the claims. But after an interview with Axios, he acknowledged that the board chose to cancel the event before DeSantis signed the bill.

The big picture: The organization has faced pressure in recent months to diversify its leadership and answer questions about financial transparency. Now some former leaders say they were ousted for speaking up about issues or trying to improve the nonprofit.

  • Some members of Tampa's LGBTQ+ community are losing faith in the group, along with sacred spaces to celebrate Pride.

Flashback: Tampa Pride's internal turmoil bubbled into the public eye back in December, when Mark Bias, West's partner, left the board after backlash over controversial social media posts.

  • Early, who's been part of the organization for nine years, resigned about a month later out of frustration with leadership after promising to bring more diverse members onto the board.
  • Then in March, a Tampa interfaith church pulled its support from the Pride festival and called for West to step down after he publicly misgendered a senior pastor.

What they're saying: Angelique Young told Axios she was one of the people Tampa Pride leaders like Early promised to bring on to diversify voices on the board. But she was abruptly removed from the board in April without explanation.

  • Hair said that they were unable to track West down to vote Young onto the board. After multiple attempts, they held a meeting on the stoop of his home, which serves as the organization's headquarters, so the vote would be recorded by his doorbell camera.
  • At the group's next meeting, Hair and Young were kicked off the board.

Another former board member, Trevor Rosine, told Axios that after flagging issues with the nonprofit's financial records at a meeting in 2020, he was promptly removed from the board. He now runs PFLAG Tampa.

  • Hair said asking about finances was also part of what led to her removal.

The other side: West told Axios he refused independent audits of the nonprofit's finances to protect the privacy of donors and sponsors.

  • West called the attempt to bring Young onto the board an effort to "take over Tampa Pride with shady dealings" but said he would still like to have her involved in the organization.

West insists that Tampa Pride is thriving. He told Axios the nonprofit is giving out $15,000 in scholarships to local students next month and planning a 5K run.

  • He still wants to celebrate Tampa Pride's 10th anniversary in March with its biggest parade and festival yet.

What we're watching: One organizer doesn't want Tampa's LGBTQ+ community to lose Pride on the River, so she's looking into throwing her own version.

  • "In this time that our state is in, there was no reason to back down," Brianna Summers, a drag performer who's helped plan and host Pride on the River for the last two years, told Axios of the event's cancellation.
  • "It's a celebration so many people look forward to. Why would you take that away from anybody?"
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.

More Tampa Bay stories