Proud Beyond Pride: Discovering Tampa Bay's Diversity

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 6, 2018

With more and more destinations courting the "pink" dollar, many of those in the LGBTQ community are asking themselves "why" as much as "where" when it comes to planning vacation.

According to Community Marketing & Insights' (CMI) 22nd Annual LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Survey, queer travelers hit the road more than three times per year for vacation, with the majority focusing on moderate-price experiences with a bit of luxury.

The biggest draws for travelers are destinations known for their scenic or natural beauty, LGBTQ-friendliness, and a thriving food and restaurant scene. So it's no wonder that Tampa Bay is continuing to pique the interest of those heading to sunny Florida for a getaway that meets these criteria.

It's one thing to slap a rainbow flag on a storefront, and quite another to dig deep into a city's cultural identity to advocate and promote a welcoming environment for travelers and locals alike. Tampa Pride celebrated its fourth anniversary last month in Ybor City, a neighborhood long known for its diversity and inclusion. Once known as the "Cigar Factory of the World," you can still find hand-rolled cigars, Cuban coffee, as well as a prominent Sicilian influence and landmarks like L'Unione Italiana, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

But it's the people as much as the place that marked this year's Pride celebration as particularly significant. Grand Marshals included out and proud former Tampa police chief Jane Castor and Reverend Jakob Hero-Shaw, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church. The landmark congregation has been serving the community since 1971 and is the first LGBTQ-recognized organization in the Tampa Bay area. Reverend Shaw is the coordinator for the Transgender Religious Roundtable at the Pacific School of Religion

Ybor City has long carried the moniker GaYBOR and has an LGBTQ coalition that supports equal rights and community engagement. Its current president, Justice Gennari, is a tireless community advocate, donating his time and talents to pull resources for a variety of causes. Convincing locally owned business like his employer GameTime to support not only LGBTQ causes but those that strengthen the neighborhood, is part of a vision to bolster the relationship between the LGBTQ community and its allies.

On a broader platform, Equality Florida's significant presence in Tampa Bay is strengthening the organization's two-part mission as an educational charity and advocacy organization. More than 500 attendees packed the
TPepin Hospitality Centre for this year's gala, raising upwards of $380,000. The event featured the powerful voices of spoken word artists such as Sam(ira) Obeid and Equality Florida's co-founder and CEO Nadine Smith.

Companies are also recognizing Tampa's LGBTQ momentum. PNC Bank was the evening's presenting sponsor, in large part due to the efforts of Ashley Brundage, PNC's vice president of The Office of Diversity and Inclusion and former president of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber. Born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, Brundage faced plenty of closed doors in her search for employment as a transgender woman. With resilience and fortitude, she's firmly positioned herself as a major influencer and advocate not only in Tampa Bay but also across the country.

Those visiting Tampa Bay may not immediately see the impact of its dedicated LGBTQ advocates, but they'll surely tap into the top-rated tourist activities as identified by CMI's study, which includes unique tourist attractions, historical attractions, and interesting neighborhoods. Here are EDGE's top five picks for what not to miss:

Tampa Museum of Art -- Approaching its 40th anniversary in 2019, the museum's stunning architecture is as compelling as what's inside, which includes "Having a Ball: George Sosnak's Striking Portraits from America's Pastime" through July 22, 2018.

Pirate Water Taxi -- There's no more unique way to get around town than the hop-on-hop-off unlimited ride that glides among the city's waterways.

Florida Museum of Photographic Arts -- Take a break from the sun to enjoy an incredible rotating collection of photography, including Patty Carroll's "Anonymous Women: Camouflage and Calamity" (through June 30, 2018), which explores the changing relationship between women and domesticity.

Those looking for an excuse for a spontaneous getaway and reason to pack their favorite flamboyant formal wear should mark their calendars for Pride and Passion, the museum's annual gala. Expect a surreal good time inspired by the famous 1972 Surrealist Ball.

Tampa Bay Food & Craft Beer Tours -- The Heights Urban Food & Spirits Tour offers a culinary introduction to some of the city's newest hotspots, including The Hall on Franklin, Armature Works, Steelbach, and Ulele Brewery.

TAG-Approved Hotels -- Tampa Bay features 19 hotels with TAG approval, which assures each property receives LGBTQ diversity and sensitivity training, employees staff that reflect the diversity of their communities, and enforces non-discriminatory policies.

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Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Senior Editor of Travel, Lifestyle, Health & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.

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