Downtown Orlando celebrates 11th Come Out With Pride
Shirts, flags and banners illustrated the words "Love Wins" in Downtown Orlando this weekend for the 11th annual Come Out With Pride festival.
This year's three-day event, which coincided with Sunday's National Coming Out Day, was themed "Pride: United" due to the recent Supreme Court decision that requires all states to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same sex and to recognize those performed in other jurisdictions.
People of all ages, colors, sexual orientations and hair colors filled the streets as pedestrians filed along road blocks set up for the event.
On Friday at 8 p.m., the festival was launched with the Pride on Church Street block party, hosted at the Church Street Station outside of Hamburger Mary's.
Curtains hung from left to right across the six second-story windows of the Historical Bumby Hardware Building, creating a rainbow flag.
Amy Armstrong of the music/comedy duo Amy & Freddy sang Barbara Streisand's "Don't Rain on my Parade" to the growing crowd that filled Church Street from the train tracks westward to South Garland Avenue.
Along the cobblestone road, a blending of history and modernity ensued. The past struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, its present victories and its future goals were brought together in a night of revelry.
"[In the past], everything felt very unsafe, like you couldn't be yourself," an Orlando visitor, Justin, 37, said about his coming-out in 2005. "It's amazing how quickly things have changed."
The weekend's main events began at noon on Saturday with Pride Marketplace around Lake Eola. Some common names, such as the Human Rights Campaign and Orlando Gay Chorus — among those less-expected, such as Aetna — set up display tents along the banks of Lake Eola.
Despite the occasional rain showers, guests lined the walkway around the park, chatted with vendors and connected with the various local organizations that impact the LGBTQ+ community.
A zebra was also brought to the event as one of the guests by Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens for Zebra Coalition, a non-profit that benefits LGBTQ+ youth through programs that foster intervention for homelessness, drug abuse and suicide.
By the start of the parade at 4 p.m., hand-held fans could be seen in all directions as members of the crowd tried to cool themselves while waiting for floats to stream down East Central Boulevard.
Local, state and national politicians brought floats to the event, only one of which was accompanied by the politician herself.
Shortly after, the National Gay Pilots Association streamed down the parade route carrying the United States, Florida and rainbow flags side-by-side in a unification symbolic of the recent victories for the LGBTQ+.
Also part of the parade procession were Jordin Sparks, the winner of the sixth season of "American Idol," and Jorge Estevez and Martha Sugalski of WFTV Channel 9 News.
Estevez is a proud,openly gay man whose support system includes his workplace, for which he has noted his gratitude.
The float that received the most cheers, though, belonged to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. Participants sat in the back of a modest pick-up truck, followed by a group of wayfarers holding rainbow flags and signs which read, "Proud of my gay son," "Proud of my lesbian daughter," and the like.
Some members of the crowd reached their hands out for high-fives and hugs. The mood seemed to curtail toward a solemn appreciation for the simplicity of familial love and acceptance, as PFLAG's float reminded the crowd of the importance of family and the significance of unconditional love.
A fireworks show began at 9 p.m., where flashes of colors filled the sky above Lake Eola. Music played through the speakers located along the park's corridor as bursts of light flashed to the tempo.
Lake Eola's fountain was lit the various colors of the rainbow, traversing from red to violet — a stark representation of pride for the LGBTQ+ community.
A voice was then heard through the park's speakers, which addressed the sanctity of marriage and the opportunity for same-sex couples to uphold that sacred institution.
Long-time resident and openly gay man Gene "Fitch" Phillips, 24, said his favorite part of the event were the speeches given throughout the day.
"It was really important to hear from people who've made a difference in our community that we aren't so fully aware of. We're only aware of the end-result," he said.
Christie Morell, a 22-year-old UCF student, said she noticed the happiness the event brought.
"It made me feel good, seeing all these people together for one cause, and taking pride in who they are. Especially since gay marriage was legalized this year, there's a lot to be celebrated and to be happy about, so I definitely felt that today," she said.
Michael Monarrez is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.