“Where are you from?” is such a loaded question for me. As someone who immigrated from Bolivia to the U.S. and part of a working-class family who moved around a lot as a kid, my answer completely depends on my mood and amount of energy that I want to invest into the conversation.
Like many marginalized folks, I balance the amount of labor, justification and explanation I choose to disclose in casual interactions with a sales clerk or a nosey neighbor digging for dirt. Most recently at a conference in D.C., I was asked. Having lived in Orlando the majority of my adult life, my default is… Orlando, Florida. Florida being this mystical place, the armpit of the continental U.S. with giant reptiles, and mysterious love bugs. It usually brings absurd questions about theme parks then quietly the light chatter dies down.
However, this time was different. For the first time, I was slapped with “why do you stay there?” Of course, it was dished out with a judgmental tone and facial expression to match. Instantly, I felt obligated to defend my life choices as an adult, as a parent, as a professional and as an activist. Pausing, I politely smiled as I organized my thoughts, trying to find a place to begin. For context, the question was asked in reference to our current political climate. I must admit, she wasn’t wrong for asking. But her white, cisgender, heterosexual, upper class privilege was showing and it was not a cute look. She stared at me, waiting for an answer. Deep breath. “Well,” I began, sharing this is where I went to college, completed grad school, launched my career, met my wife and we began our family. Of course, this wasn’t enough to satisfy her curiosity. She pushed. How can an immigrant, Latina, lesbain, married to a butch woman with two kids choose to stay in this miserable place? I felt my temperature rising.
Despite everything, Orlando, Florida is home for me. It’s far from paradise and perfection with the recent legislation, the state of Florida is scary for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially our trans siblings, our undocumented families and our reproductive freedoms, but in my blue bubble I feel secure. I know plenty of folks who have or are in the process of moving and understand and respect their reasons; however, moving takes resources, which not everyone has. I choose to stay because I am fighting for our collective freedom and for the rights of those who are more systematically oppressed.
With this motivation and drive, I do my job. As executive director of Come Out With Pride, Inc., my team of volunteers and I are marching on and planning our Pride in October. We are a tiny but mighty 501(c)3 nonprofit. With over 200,000 guests last year, I am overwhelmed with joy that Come Out With Pride is the largest single-day event in Orlando and Orange County! This is not by mistake, coincidence or accident. These are intentional efforts created by the past and present volunteer teams at Come Out With Pride, Inc. Our Pride celebration is a kaleidoscope of community collaborations, business partnerships, support from our local elected leaders and law enforcement agencies. I am tremendously proud to call Orlando home, where the biggest event in our world-renowned city is queer!
Pride began as a remembrance of the Stonewall riots. Facing major bigotry, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia, brave local Orlando trailblazers paved the way HERE by risking their personal and professional safety in the early 2000s. Year after year, they built Come Out With Pride to what we know today. Now, we need YOU! With the “culture wars” blazing, our efforts are increasingly becoming more difficult and the barriers are greatly impacting our ability to organize Pride. If you have ever said Pride was too corporate, I challenge you to get involved and/or at least donate. Big businesses aren’t showing up like years past and sponsorships are low. Take this opportunity and personally support your local, hometown Pride. Don’t just buy your rainbow merchandise from a big retailer and feel as if you have contributed to the queer cause. I know I’ve fallen victim to pink washing and rainbow glitter items that make me feel seen and represented. But I had to stop and ask myself, how do they contribute to the local greater good?
If you are eagerly planning your Pride outfit, I am asking you. If you have a favorite spot to watch our Most Colorful Pride parade, I’m asking you. If you are enthusiastically planning to bring your child and family to Pride, I’m asking you. If you have fond memories of Pride, if you love someone who is LGBTQIA+, if you are an ally, I am asking YOU to join us.
Orlando is our home. We are stronger together! Pride is our opportunity to stand in resistance, show our resilience and rise up in rebellion. This is the year to show up and show off – see you at Pride, Orlando!
Tatiana Quiroga is the executive director for Come Out With Pride. She is a proud mother, wife and LGBTQ advocate in Central Florida.