October 31, 2023
Organizers say they expect thousands of people to gather at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando Saturday for the annual Come Out With Pride festival and parade.
They say this year they’ll be putting an extra focus on celebrating people in the transgender community, a group they say has felt the brunt of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed in Florida.
Emily Beck says this year’s Come Out With Pride event will be her first, and also her last. She’s moving to Seattle soon for a new job, in part because of her concerns about Florida’s political climate. She’s a transgender woman who began her transition last year.
“I don’t think a lot of people are happy with the way things are going,” she said. “They’re seeing there’s the culture war being perpetrated, but nothing’s actually getting done to help people. It’s only hate, and that’s not going to win.”
Event organizers say safety will be top of mind at this year’s event.
“This year is very different compared to previous years,” said Come Out With Pride’s executive director Tatiana Quiroga.
With LGBTQ+ people facing increased threats, she said the festival is stepping up security this year, and will be relying on local law enforcement as well as private security. Quiroga said keeping an organized parade route helps keep the festivities safe and secure.
“There are increased security concerns, and so we use all of these different forms to keep the festival, and especially the parade, which is what we’re doing here, organized,” she said.
Quiroga said this year the focus will be clear: Support for the transgender community, with a transgender rally and a visible presence at the start of the parade.
“We really wanted to make sure the folks in the trans community and non-binary community felt that pride was really speaking to them and welcoming and inclusive of those two communities very specifically,” said Quiroga.
Orlando business owners and performers say they are also excited about the opportunity to show pride in many ways as the festival approaches. Ritzy Rags, Wigs & More owner Leigh Shannon is running an annual campaign to provide professional-grade wigs to cancer patients who need them.
Ann Fillmen is now also trying to somehow get used to losing her hair, on top of her cancer battle.
“You want to like what you see in the mirror, and who else is better to do that than a drag queen, right?” said Shannon.
Shannon is helping Fillmen get through one of the hardest times of her life. It’s charitable work Shannon’s just as proud of as his lifelong love of entertaining as a drag performer.
“It’s a way for them to see all I do, and most people come in knowing I’m a performer,” said Shannon. “I’ve got some of my clients going to Winter Haven and The Villages next month, and these are people who are going through cancer, and they get to forget about cancer for an hour and a half.”
He’s said he’s proud to help others, and proud of who he is and what he does. He has all sorts of rainbow gear for the weekend’s celebration.
“It’s more important than ever that we not back down, and I think we are winning and I think we will win,” said Shannon. “I think it’s very important that we keep loving ourselves through this, and plus, not being scared about it, because we’ve come too far.”
Come Out With Pride starts at noon Saturday at Lake Eola, with the parade scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.