Anime Festival Orlando offers safe space with drag performer Oriana Perón, LGBTQ+-focused events

Anime Festival Orlando is set to bring big talent and engaging events to Central Florida this Pride Month.

AFO is one of the longest-running anime conventions in Orlando, launching with its first anime festival in 2000. This year the convention will be held at the Rosen Plaza on International Dr., running from June 28-30.

Drag entertainer and educator Oriana Perón will be returning for the second year in a row to perform and bring their drag race to the convention.

Peron has been a fan of the convention circuits since attending their first convention at Anime Central in Chicago. They started cosplaying in 2006 which then inspired a transition to doing drag roughly 12 years ago.

“I’m Oriana cosplaying a character. So, my goal is never really to embody the character fully,” Perón says.

For Perón the idea of gender in cosplay has always been nonexistent, and they think people should cosplay characters they like no matter who they are or how they identify.

“I think that the popularity of ‘Drag Race’ and the popularity of anime and the ease of which we can access anime now has made it easier to see more and more, you know, folks doing various cosplays,” Perón says.

While some in the fandom have expressed how they don’t see how LGBTQ+ culture and anime mix, Perón says that the idea that both are intertwined couldn’t be clearer.

“Sometimes on the internet a convention will post, ‘We’re having an Oriana show,’ and commenters will be like ‘What does drag have to do with anime?’,” Perón says. “I’m like, have you seen an anime? The entirety of ‘Sailor Moon’ is queer.”

Perón’s performances rely on personal experiences and feelings, the person behind the drag. They reinforce those lessons and metaphors with the stories of the characters they portray in their show.

“But then I get up there and if I have a story quote or character or things like that, then I’ve got like framework, and I can work within that,” Perón says. “And so that’s why I realized as an entertainer that I need that, that storybook framework.”

Attendees to this year’s AFO convention will not only see Perón perform but will also have the chance to be chosen to compete in “Oriana’s Drag Race.” Fans of the popular “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will be familiar with the setup, but Perón’s version adds elements of anime and pop culture to the event.

“Oriana’s Drag Race” will see five lucky attendees compete on Friday, June 28, for a slot in Perón’s Saturday night drag show on June 29.

“So there are four challenges, in between each of the challenges I have a professional drag entertainer come out and perform,” Perón says. “So, the audience gets to see the amateurs do something and then a paid professional come on stage and do something.”

For Perón, the drag race is more than a competition. This experience is something that can leave a lasting impression on the attendees that are able to compete.

“I’m trying to provide an opportunity for those who want to experiment and a safe place to do so,” Perón says. “By the end of the weekend, wherever I’ve gone, a new drag entertainer is born.”

Perón isn’t the only LGBTQ+ representation at this year’s festival. Charlotte Gaymer Network will also be present at AFO this year. A nonprofit organization that provides for the LGBTQ+ community’s gaming enthusiasts in the Charolette, North Carolina area, CGN also hosts various events such as their Gaymer Gathering, which has grown into the largest LGBTQ+ networking event in the Carolinas.

Executive director and co-founder, Jonny Saldana is part of the team bringing CGN to Central Florida for the convention this year. Saldana and CGN will be involved in and hosting several different events at this year’s festival.

“Diversity in Gaming: Exploring LGBTQ+ Thematic Elements and Stories in Gaming” is a gaming panel with a focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility and how those qualities can be applied in the creation and development of games.

“Join Charlotte Gaymers Network to talk about everything DEIA in the gaming industry and video games,” the event description reads. “DEIA is more important than ever. For gamers of marginalized backgrounds, it’s been heartwarming — and frustrating — to see the advances and retreats from DEIA in the space.”

“Diversity in Gaming: Exploring LGBTQ+ Thematic Elements and Stories in Gaming” will happen on Friday, June 28, from 2-3 p.m. in the Panel 1 (Salon 5) room.

“That panel typically talks about diversity in games like, what does that mean,” Saldana says. “How do we make sure that diversity is not only uplifted more but focused on game development and creation.”

The group will also be hosting “Allyship: How to Be an Effective Ally,” a panel around the topic of being a supportive ally for those in the community that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We will have an attorney with us on that panel and talk about what it means to be an ally,” Saldana says. “How to not be performative, but how to be a genuine ally in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality and our rights.”

“Allyship: How to Be an Effective Ally” will take place Saturday, June 29, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in the Panel 1 (Salon 5) room.

CGN will also be hosting a series of “JackBox Party Games,” sponsored by the developer of the games themselves, JackBox Games.

Saldana will be performing live at one of the big parties that will be hosted at the convention.

“So I’ll be infusing a lot of the music that I play with pride anthems and songs that are very recognizable part of the LGBTQ+ culture,” Saldana says.

CGN also has an active discord community for those that want to stay connected outside of the convention as well. Those wanting to join can find the community at

Other panels that may be of interest for LGBTQ+ attendees include “Gender in Anime with Brittany, Kira, and Tiana,” held on Friday, June 28, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., featuring voice actors Brittany Lauda, Kira Buckland and Tiana Camacho in a discussion panel about voice acting and gender; “X-Men 97: What Happened, Where Can it Go and More?,” held Friday, June 28, from 8-9 p.m., presented by Gaymerdee and Broken Needles Cosplay of More Mutants and examining the LGBTQ+-inclusive show “X-Men ‘97”; and “Manga/Anime to See as Someone Who’s LGBTQ+,” held Saturday, June 29, from 7:30-8:30 p.m., presented by ShKrimp and Trip! Sometimes.

“It’s hard to find media that is both fun and good representations of the joys and struggles of someone who’s LGBTQ+,” the “Manga/Anime to See as Someone Who’s LGBTQ+” description reads. “So we’re here with some fun, sad, scary recommendations to expand your repertoire!”

Attendees of AFO this year will also have the opportunity to meet several celebrities popular in nerd culture who are attending the convention. Fans could meet iconic entertainers and voice actors, including Dante Basco, who played Rufio in “Hook” and voiced Zuko in the “Avatar the Last Airbender” animated series; SungWon “ProZD” Cho, who has voiced characters in “God of War: Ragnarok,” “Borderlands 3,” “One Piece” and more; and Johnny Young Bosch, best known for his roles in the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” franchise.

“AFO exists to encourage the appreciation of Japanese culture within the anime and video game fan communities of Orlando,” the anime festival states on its website. “Our community has the best fans, and we’re focused on providing excellent content and encouraging fans to be excellent to each other. To our dedicated fans, we thank you and look forward to seeing you again and again. And to our newest fans, we can’t wait for you to join us on our journey of over two decades.”

Single day passes start at $45 with weekend passes available starting at $90. To purchase tickets, see the festival’s full schedule, list of celebrity guests and more, visit

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