“Our faith was clearly the most visible,” said the Rev. Manish Mishra of the UU Church of Saint Petersburg, “and that was a source of great pride.” Members of at least seven UU congregations participated in weekend events.
More than 150 UUs attended an opening dinner and worship service at the Saint Petersburg church on Friday night, said Mishra, then marched in the pride parade Saturday behind a 15-foot UU banner that read “Room for Different Beliefs. Yours.” UUs also had a booth at the pride festival that followed the parade.
Mishra said that last year three or four UU congregations participated. He attributed the increase this year to “thinking bigger” and to the public attention drawn to the case of Largo City Manager Susan Stanton, who was fired earlier this year after she said she planned to undergo gender reassignment. UU congregations supported her throughout a long process of public hearings. Stanton, formerly known as Steve, was grand marshal of the parade.
Mishra said UUs presented a message of “hope not hate” during the weekend. “We live in one of the most conservative states in the country,” he said. “To demonstrate to the whole region the way in which we as a religious community can be a source of affirmation and hope for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, as well as for everyone else, is important.” Every year people visit local UU congregations because of their participation in the pride festival, he said.
Participating congregations included the UU United Fellowship in Saint Petersburg, UU Church of Tarpon Springs, UU Church of Tampa, Spirit of Life UUs in Odessa, UUs of Clearwater, Manatee UU Fellowship in Bradenton, and the UU Church of Fort Myers. The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of the Clearwater congregation, the Rev. Weston Stevens from Tarpon Springs, and the Rev. Elizabeth Brown from the Tampa congregation led the Friday worship service.
United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Church congregations were also represented, as were several independent congregations.
Jeff Harper, a member of the UU United Fellowship in Saint Petersburg and chair of the West Central Cluster of UU Congregations, said UU participants tossed coins printed with the cluster’s website address to parade spectators, prepared a special brochure, and wore rainbow bandanas. “This is the biggest thing the cluster has ever done,” he said. “We got a lot of cheers because of our work on behalf of Susan Stanton. And the weekend gave us a lot of visibility.”
- Unitarian Universalist West Central Florida Cluster. Coalition of ten west central Florida UU congregations.
- Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg, Fla.