Unite & Be Proud

The history of the LGBTQ community in Tampa Bay.

For many, June is a month full of rainbow merch and a quick profile picture change, but we acknowledge that it is so much more than that. Here at PPK, we believe in learning about and acknowledging the journey the LGBTQ community has accomplished in Florida, and more specifically Tampa Bay. It is important to fully understand the history of where we live, know the impact LGBTQ people have on our community, and to celebrate the successes while acknowledging the challenges they have endured. Looking back can help us see the progress has been made and prepare us to look to the future to see what comes next.

1956 - 1965

the Johns Committee

The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (also referred to as the Johns Committee) was established with a mission to preserve segregation after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Charley Johns, a Florida senator who called for the creation of the Johns Committee, believed that civil rights movements were backed by communists and that the way to stop integration in Florida was to take down the largest American civil rights organization, the NAACP. However, with their failure to prove communist ties, the need to keep their funding, and sweeping investigative powers, the Johns Committee found its new focus and began to investigate teachers and students and the "extent of [their] infiltration into agencies supported by state funds.” 

Their belief was that LGBTQ students and professors would be subjected to blackmail to work for communists. The Johns Committee’s main target was the University of Florida.

The committee used uniformed policemen to pull students out of their classrooms and conducted hundreds of interrogations of students and professors without legal representation. They also hired student informants and undercover investigators to target gay and lesbian students and get them to admit their sexuality. Reports show they would place undercover investigators in bathrooms and have them ask students if they wanted to engage in sexual activities. Admission of being gay or lesbian was grounds for firing or expulsion from the college. 

By 1963...


professors and deans were fired from the University of Florida.


public school teachers had their teaching certificates revoked.


pending investigations were taking place in Florida universities and grade schools.

The Purple Pamphlet

The Johns Committee published Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, informally called "the Purple Pamphlet." The book, funded by Florida State tax dollars, contained graphic and explicit photographs of boys and men meant to connect homosexuality with pedophilia. Due to the outrage of “state-sponsored pornography,” the Johns committee disbanded on July 1, 1965. The committee amassed 30,000 pages of secret documents to be kept sealed for 72 years.

With pressure from Florida historians and the state’s public record law, the Florida Legislature released the Johns Committee documents in 1993. These records are now available for public review at the archives in Tallahassee.


  • The first annual All Hallows Ball was held, a private, not-for-profit costume party for Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ community. This will soon become one of Tampa’s longest-running traditions.
  • Florida legislature voted to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting children.

    This passage was influenced by the “Save Our Children” campaign, led by Anita Bryant.


  • The University of South Florida hosted Tampa’s first ever Pride. The annual event began as a small barbeque and softball game before evolving into what we know of it today.


  • Tampa AIDS Network (TAN) was established. They served people in the Tampa area with HIV/AIDS and linked HIV-positive people with food, housing and health care services. They were a very high-profile public entity and one of the first major AIDS resources in Tampa Bay. In 2002, they merged with Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services’s Gulf Coast Community Care division.


  • The Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (TIGLFF) was founded as a three day extension of Tampa’s  Pride celebrations. It is now one of the country’s largest and longest running events of its kind.


  • Equality Florida was founded with a mission to defeat anti-LGBTQ bills. These bills included efforts to overturn all local anti-discrimination policies, repeal all safe schools policies, expand Florida’s anti-gay adoption ban, and prohibit domestic partnership benefits and protections.


  • St. Petersburg held their first Pride parade. The City Council proclaimed “the Month of June as St. Petersburg Pride Month in the City and ask all citizens to take pride in the diversity of our community".


  • Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms aimed to pass a motion that would prevent the Hillsborough County government from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events. The ban passed, and Storms added an amendment that would require a supermajority to repeal. This was the temporary end of Tampa Pride.

    With Tampa Pride’s absence, St. Pete Pride became the largest pride celebration in the state of Florida.


  • After Tampa banned the local government from acknowledging Pride, most Gay Pride celebrations occurred outside the county. A group of LGBTQ community leaders reached out to the Tampa Museum of Art about hosting a private event to celebrate Gay Pride in Hillsborough county. This was the creation of Tampa Museum of Art’s inaugural Pride & Passion, a collaboration with the LGBTQ community and its allies to be vocal in celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion. This event is one of the Museum’s three largest fundraisers, along with Pavilion and CITY.


  • Florida Amendment 2 passed, defining marriage as a union only between one man and one woman. The amendment required a 60% approval rate and passed with a vote of 61.9% in favor and 38.1% opposed. 


  • In re:Gill, a landmark Florida court case, a Florida judge said that the state's ban on same-sex couples adopting children violated the couples’ and the children's equal-protection rights under the state's constitution.


  • With the support of Tampa’s first openly gay commissioner, Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough County Commission repealed its 2005 ban on Tampa Pride. 


  • Metro Inclusive Health established the LGBTQ Welcome Center in Downtown St. Pete with a mission to provide quality health and wellness services that are inclusive, relevant, supportive and represent the lifetime continuum of the diverse people in our community. This was the third of its kind in the nation. 
  • In Brenner v. Scott, a U.S. district court ruled that Florida's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional after a Florida couple got married in Canada and the state would not recognize the marriage.


  • Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
  • Tampa Pride returns after 13 years.


  • Tropicana Field welcomed a crowd of more than 40,000 for the Rays’ Pride Night, an annual game dedicated to the LGBTQ community.


  • The Tampa Bay Lightning hosts their first annual Pride Night, dedicating the game to celebrate inclusion in the sport. The Lightning Foundation also auctioned off Pride sticks, jerseys, and other memorabilia to benefit local LGBTQ charities.


  • Tampa’s first openly gay mayor, Jane Castor, is elected.
  • Vazzo v. City of Tampa – Tampa City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy in 2017. New Hearts Outreach, an anti-LGBTQ legal organization, challeged the law on behalf of Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, two licensed therapists who specialized in conversion therapy. In October 2019, the U.S. District Court ruled that Tampa lacked the authority to enact the ordinance.
  • Vazzo v. City of Tampa – Tampa City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy in 2017. New Hearts Outreach, an anti-LGBTQ legal organization, challeged the law on behalf of Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, two licensed therapists who specialized in conversion therapy. In October 2019, the U.S. District Court ruled that Tampa lacked the authority to enact the ordinance.
  • Tampa’s first openly gay mayor, Jane Castor, is elected.


  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill excluding transgender girls and women (which the bill defines as "students of the male sex", based on sex assigned at birth) from participating in sports designated for female students.
  • State Senator Lauren Book introduced a measure to create the Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defense Prohibition Act. This would ensure that criminal defendants could not use the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity as a legal defense after committing violent attacks, cyberstalking, or sharing revenge porn. With some members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee expressing concern about the effects and whether it was really needed, the bill died with a 6-2 vote.


  • Tampa Pride and St. Pete Pride returns in full force since its postponement in 2020.
  • Florida Legislature passed Florida's House Bill 1557, Parental Rights in Education, also referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to grade 3 in Florida public school districts, or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not "age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students" in any grade.
  • For many, this legislation reminds them of Florida’s dark past in regards to the treatment of LGBTQ people and their rights. Since the Johns Committee 66 years ago, Florida had made progress in the fight for LGBTQ rights. However, with many battles still need to be fought, many believe this legislation is taking Florida backwards towards that darker past and will inspire other states to follow.

BE proud

To help emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion, we designed our Unite & Be Proud merch line. Unite & Be Proud is a take on our agency motto, Unite & Take Over, because when we come together around a cause, we can create real change.

All proceeds will benefit St. Pete Pride to further help their mission to strengthen St. Petersburg’s legacy of love and support the LGBTQ community.
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