ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The grand finale of St. Pete Pride is happening this weekend.
The Pride Parade is returning in-person Saturday after three years due to COVID-19. Organizers are expecting it could draw more than 300,000 people, which would be its largest yet.
Following the parade, a festival is taking place in the Grand Central District on Sunday.
"We're all really, really pumped that it's coming back for our 20th anniversary," said Tiffany Freisberg, president of the St. Pete Pride Board.
Safety is always a concern with big events. St. Pete police will be present at the event to respond to any emergencies, and volunteers will watch for any red flags, Freisberg said.
St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway held a news conference Thursday to discuss some of the security measures officers will be taking.
He said the department will be "all hands on deck" with officers in uniform and in plain clothes patrolling the events. The team is also working with intelligence agencies to investigate any tips and monitor any potential threats to the events.
Police aren't expecting things to get out of hand, but after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, Holloway says they're prepared too.
"The decision that came out yesterday is just one other thing that we'll add on and make sure we have everything covered," he said.
But organizers are still asking for the public's help to keep the celebrations safe. If you see something, say something, Freisberg said. That's the one piece of advice she said SPPD told her everyone should know.
"If it's nothing, great. If it is something, you could be a hero that day," Freisberg said.
Holloway said Thursday, “This is a safe event. It’s been happening for 20 years. We want to continue to make sure it's safe and the only way we're gonna do that is, again, by having our community support. If you see something, say something, do something."
Freisberg is expecting protests during celebrations. However, that's nothing new this year, and it shouldn't ruin what this month is about, she said.
"We do not have to engage with them. We do not have to give them our energy. We do not have to give them more power," Freisberg said.
Holloway said the department is preparing for this, as well. He explained that there will be "free speech zones" set up at the events where people can speak freely but will be apprehended if they cause a disturbance.
Pride is happening at a time when Florida's "Parental Rights in Education" law, known as the "Don't Say Gay" legislation by critics, will take effect July 1.
Recently, police in Idaho said they arrested a group of 31 white supremacists and accused them of attempting to incite a riot at several locations, including a Pride event.
Despite legislation considered hateful by some and the incident in Idaho, community leaders said it illustrates why Pride is needed.
"It is what we do as a city, as a welcoming community," Jim Nixon, St. Petersburg LGBTQ liaison said. "It warms your heart."
The parade drew in 260,000 people in 2019, which had an economic impact of $62 million, Nixon said. Nixon said about 10,000 people attended the first parade in 2003.