Mar 22, 2024 - News

Tampa Pride's 10th anniversary marked by tensions over leadership

A rainbow flag being held out in the Tampa Pride parade

A shot from the 2022 Tampa Pride Parade. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

This weekend marks a decade of Tampa Pride celebrating the LGBTQ community in Ybor City.

Why it matters: Carrie West, president of the nonprofit, says this weekend's parade and festival, which follow Tampa Pride's first interfaith service and 5K, will be its biggest celebration yet.

  • But tensions between the nonprofit and some community members have risen, with calls for its founders to make way for new leadership.

Case in point: A since-deleted Instagram account called @tampapridelessofficial criticized the organization for still prominently featuring West's husband, Mark Bias, after he resigned from the board in 2022 over controversial social media posts.

Catch up quick: Calls for more diverse leadership went largely unanswered after Bias' exit from the board.

  • West blamed last year's canceled Pride on the River celebration on new laws backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but former board members told Axios that wasn't the case. They said the nonprofit didn't have enough manpower to put on the event after many of them were ousted or resigned.
  • A Tampa interfaith church pulled its support from last year's festival and called for West to step down after he publicly misgendered a senior pastor.

Between the lines: Although anti-LGBTQ efforts have lost momentum at the state level, the rift over Tampa Pride's leadership comes as Tampa Bay's LGBTQ community still faces challenges.

  • This is the first year Hillsborough's Board of County Commissioners won't present a Pride commendation after three Republican board members wouldn't sign off on the document, per Creative Loafing.

What they're saying: Rachel Covello, who community members voted in to be a grand marshal this year, told Axios that, while she's grateful for the honor and Tampa Pride's work in the community, she has mixed feelings.

  • "Tampa Pride needs to happen whether it's Carrie and Mark running it or other leaders," Covello said. "But it's important too that organizations progress with the community and the times. I don't know that it's happening the way it should, and I'm hoping new people can step in at some point to help it evolve."

The other side: West called critics of the organization "selfish" and insisted that his husband is a volunteer, not a board member. After decades of working together in the community, West said Bias can't be separated from the organization.

  • "If I had somebody else to help, I would do that. He is the working stone of solidity of Tampa Pride," West told Axios.
  • "If they [critics] would step up to the plate and help, great. But you can't sit on the computer and criticize. That's all they're doing."
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