Come Out With Pride prepares for what it hopes will be its biggest celebration yet

A record number of attendees filled Lake Eola Park and Orlando’s surrounding downtown area in October last year for the annual Come Out With Pride parade and festival.

The theme for last year’s Pride, “A Place for Us,” came from the Stephen Sondheim-penned musical “West Side Story” and were the words uttered by openly queer actress Ariana DeBose as she accepted her Academy Award for her role in the recent film adaptation. Last year’s theme spoke to the social and political climate at the time as the LGBTQ+ community was under attack and looking for a place that was indeed for us all.

Tatiana Quiroga, Come Out With Pride’s executive director, spoke earlier this year with Watermark about the event’s commitment reflecting the current realities of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Pride this year … has to look different. We’re in a different place as a movement and in the community than we were even last year,” Quiroga stated emphatically.

As we grow closer to this year’s Come Out With Pride celebration, the social and political climate has seemingly gotten bleaker, thanks to one of the most hateful legislative sessions towards marginalized communities this state has ever seen.

“We’ve seen the impacts of the new legislation in all the different aspects when it comes to producing Pride this year,” says Quiroga, speaking with Watermark Sept. 20. “There’s concern seeing these headlines and hearing the national news, especially for corporations that don’t have headquarters here in Orlando, they’re seeing these headlines and really fearing for the safety of their employees and team members. Add to that the travel advisories and we’re seeing our sponsorship level numbers lower.”

Quiroga adds that while the path to this year’s celebration was a more difficult one to maneuver, there was never any doubt that Pride was going to happen.

“One of the things that we saw as a team when we started going to events this year is that people went ahead and assumed that Come Out With Pride was going to be canceled despite the fact that we never ever said that,” Quiroga says. “The board and I were very committed from the very, very beginning of this year that we were not going to cancel or reschedule. We didn’t always know what we were going to look like, but we knew that it was never an option to cancel or reschedule. We are marching on. Pride is happening here in Orlando.”

Marching forward as a community is what in part helped solidify this year’s theme — “Stronger Together.” As we prepare for this year’s celebration, Watermark sat down with Quiroga to talk about what Come Out With Pride will look like this year and what impacts the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws will have on the event.

WATERMARK: When we spoke before, you mentioned that Come Out With Pride had conversations with the city and county leaders, as well as with the Orlando Police Department, to see what their relationship and partnership with Pride would look like moving forward. How did those conversations turn out?

QUIROGA: Mayor [Buddy] Dyer, the city of Orlando, the Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff, Mayor Jerry Demings, they have always been huge allies and partners of ours, but we really needed to make sure that we had these reaffirming conversations with them. And they were so productive and incredibly wonderful, which is why we felt so confident moving forward with Pride the way that we are.

These were all conversations that we never anticipated having last year, not knowing that the legislation was going to come the way that it did.

There are risks involved for everyone. There’s a risk involved for us as the 501(c)3 who’s hosting this event. My name is the one which goes on all the permits, so everyone from us as an organization, making sure that we really try to do the best that we can to protect our 501(c)3 status, to our entertainment and our performers, and having them understand that unfortunately this is a year that risks are involved and making sure that they’re willing to take those risks.

It really has affected almost every single aspect of planning for Pride this year.

We’re so excited to be able to move forward in the way that we are because we really truly feel that, out of all the years, this year’s probably one of the most important to make sure that Pride happens.

As a whole, Florida is not entirely safe for the LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans siblings, but we know that Orlando and Orange County are different, so we are trying to get that message to potential guests and also our partners.

One of the new laws, “Facility Requirements Based on Sex,” which makes it illegal for trans people to use certain restrooms aligned with their gender identities, was one of the concerns Pride had for this year’s festival. After speaking with the city, will trans people be safe using public restrooms at Lake Eola?

That was a question that was brought by one of my trans board members who flat out asked our government officials “Will I be arrested for using a public bathroom at Lake Eola?” and the solid 100% answer was “You are perfectly safe. There is no risk involved for you to do that.” It was also made clear that part of our renting out Lake Eola for Pride, that park is our venue and we rent out the entire park, so that being said, it does make it a private but public event.

Based on these conversations that were having, we feel very confident and fully trust our local government and our law enforcement. This is a relationship that they very much value and they respect our community so they want our guests to know they are safe and free to use whichever facilities they feel comfortable using.

Another law that got a lot of attention was what was being called the “anti-drag” law. Can attendees feel safe and comfortable to come to Pride dressed however they want to express themselves, even in drag?

Most definitely. One of the things that is very particular to the legislation and specifically talking about the anti-drag bill is that the bill is very specific on performances.

So any of our guests are welcome to dress anyway they feel, anything that would be appropriate at the beach is good for Pride. I mean, the whole point of our celebration is to come celebrate as your authentic self and that’s really what this space is intended to be. So, our guests are welcome to come as their authentic selves.

Taking that into mind, will drag queens be performing at Pride?

We will be having a lot of drag queens. One of the things that the board and I said, and we felt very confident even back in January when we started seeing all these bills roll out, two things that we fully stood by was that Come Out With Pride is so proud of the fact that we are a family friendly event. That is something that not all Prides can say. As an LGBTQ+ parent who has brought my children to Pride since they were literally weeks old, I mean Pride is part of my family tradition and is so part of the fabric of my family, so Come Out With Pride will be a family friendly event. While at the same time we are always committed to standing in solidarity with the drag community, realizing and acknowledging that drag is a cornerstone of who we are and our history and the movement and you can’t have the LGBTQ+ movement without drag. So, very early on in these conversations we knew we were going to have both.

We didn’t always know how it was going to happen but we knew we were going to have both, and so we’re very thankful that the injunction is in place. Now it doesn’t fully protect anybody from any nonsense, but it definitely is a barrier and holds things off, so we are very much moving forward with drag as part of our celebration.

Safety is always a concern when having any kind of event in downtown Orlando, but especially with this country’s history of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, talk a little about the measures being taken to ensure everyone’s safety while participating at Pride.

Yes, violence towards the LGBTQ+ community is unfortunately not necessarily a new part of this conversation. Safety has always been a number one top priority for us as an organization and as producers of a Pride celebration that is this large. Also we cannot deny the fact that we are the home of Pulse, and so the worst-case scenario has already happened for us and that is part of our history and part of our story.

So again, we had these really genuine, constructive conversations with OPD and we took our concerns to them, we spoke with the chief and we felt very heard. They completely understand and are 100% our allies and want to make sure that this is not just a successful event but a safe event.

There are precautions being taken on their end as part of our permit, we are always required to hire off-duty police officers, so we’ll have plenty of those. In addition to that, we are hiring our own private security company, we’re hiring a crowd control company also, and then we’re doing the metal detectors this year again.

The difference this year with the metal detectors is that we are allowing for bags but we really ask folks, just like we see with any large scale events, if you can please bring a see-through bag or bring a smaller bag. I know it may not always be the most convenient thing in the world but if we can all come together and realize that these tiny little changes are truly to help the overall security and safety of the entire community.

Also this is a community event, where we’re doing this as a passion project for the community, so we all have to have our eyes and ears open. We are asking our community if you see something, say something.

As you mentioned, the theme this year is “Stronger Together.” Talk to me about what that means and why the team wanted that to be the theme this year?

One of the good things about being in October is that we get to see part of the year go by and really see what the tone of the community is. So we see that the tone for Pride is a little bit different than in past years. We know obviously the roots of Pride, they started as a protest by Black and Brown trans women, and through the years it’s obviously morphed to celebrate our progress as a community.

This year we want to create a space for people to be able to come and celebrate as their authentic selves, and celebrate their queer joy, but at the same time what is so huge and critical this year is making sure that we actually have people show up to represent who they are, show up in numbers and show the world that this is what the Central Florida community looks like.

This is what the LGBTQ+ community, with our allies, looks like. Having over 200,000 people stand together, that’s a huge statement to send to our state government, to our elected officials.

With that, there is a different tone because of the legislation that has come down this year which has been very intentional in its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans siblings, and so we realize that we need to be able to show our resilience, show our resistance and show our rebellion.

There’s all different kinds of groups within the LGBTQ+ community and we really have to band together and also realize the legislation has not just been a targeted attack to the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s been a targeted attack to women, to immigrants, to communities of color, to reproductive rights.

This year we really have seen all communities coming together like we hadn’t seen before, and we must be able to acknowledge that there are intersections. There are those of us who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and are also immigrants, and our also of color, and also women, so being able to really bring that voice together, we know that we are so much stronger together. This is an incredible time to come out to, be seen and be heard. Take this opportunity to represent the community. The more that we show up in numbers the more powerful it’s going to be.

Come Out With Pride’s parade and festival will take place at Lake Eola Park and in Orlando’s downtown area Oct. 21. Stay up-to-date on all things Pride on Come Out With Pride’s social media and look for the Official Come Out With Pride guide, created by Watermark, publishing Oct. 12.

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