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As Orlando’s Come Out With Pride continues to grow, its focus shifts to the Middle

This year’s events have broader appeal to show breadth of LGBT Orlando

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In other words, behave. Audebert is likewise working with the sponsors to gauge their point of interest – exploiting the mighty gay dollar, or supporting the rights of the community – as a means of customizing sponsorship packages. Sponsors like Kennedy Space Center, he says, are coming on board to show their support of the LGBT community, in addition to showing the gathered throng that the hobbled space attraction is only 45 minutes away from Orlando. “There’s a sales element to it,” Audebert says.

“Something I’ve been working on for the past three years is talking about diversity and bringing in former foes, people that may not have had the best view of the LGBT community,” he says, adding that 90 percent of the current sponsors would be unlikely to be supporters as recently as a decade ago.

Perhaps more controversial that the transparency of economic motivations, though, is the broadening of the political tent beneath which the event will happen. In a somewhat surprising move, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs issued a proclamation in support of Come Out With Pride this year, an act typically reserved for the more liberal city of Orlando government.

“This gathering provides a special opportunity for [the] LGBT community to come together to show your unity and support for one another,” Jacobs wrote on county letterhead. “Additionally, Come Out With Pride focuses on the financial and cultural contributions the gay community and visitors make to our great county, as well as placing attention on the strides we have made in ensuring that all citizens, from every walk of life, have the opportunity to enjoy equal rights.”

In her actual proclamation, Jacobs goes even further, saying “we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and acceptance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.” She also declares Oct. 5 as Come Out With Pride Orlando Day in honor of her former staffer and confidante Chase Smith, who passed away in August.

Jacobs is expected to take the stage at the Oct. 5 event, a prospect that raises important questions about the mayor’s previous positions on LGBT rights. As recently as last year, Jacobs was actively against the countywide domestic partnership registry that she was eventually pressured into supporting. In 2008, Jacobs, a Republican, voted in favor of the state’s constitutional gay marriage ban. She likewise opposed gay adoption.

“Her past is certainly something that we want to continue to look at, but should also embrace the fact that she’s evolved,” Audebert says. “The fact is she’s going to be on stage: That’s cameras and pictures everywhere. You can’t go back after that.”

And perhaps that’s the new purpose of Come Out With Pride anyway. Gone are the antagonistic displays of nudity and harnessed leather daddies; welcome the interstate billboards, radio advertisements and climate of inclusion. This is not your uncle’s Pride parade.

“Let’s face it, our community is so diverse. The job of a Pride celebration is to put a celebration out there that’s for everyone. And last I checked, a lot of the gay community has voted for Republicans,” Audebert says. “There are so many more straight people coming over the past few years. Within the next few years, I think you and I will probably look back and talk about this and say, ‘That’s a non-issue. Nobody cares anymore.’ I think we’re getting there.”

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