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In the name of love (pride)

As Orlando prepares for Come Out With Pride, we highlight some reasons to be proud of our LGBT community

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It was almost an afterthought before it happened. Back in the blurry early-millennia years of Orlando’s gay-pride past, there was no real structure to any of this. Those looming dark clouds staring down from the sky on a weekend afternoon? They meant that we should probably wait and have another drink at Firestone on Orange Avenue, event schedule be damned. But there was a buzz, that peculiar parade-hum of hot-glue guns racing toward sequins, crepe paper blowing in the wind, a veritable neurocenter of ambition for what we saw on our televisions, in magazines, in our futures: a real pride parade for the City Beautiful. Inevitably, the rain would come, the parade would fade around a corner just two blocks away and we, the gathered downtown denizens attached to this club or that partner, would wipe away our running mascara to the sound of a dance beat and race back into the summer. Pride would remain on the inside.

As this Saturday’s theme park-sized bonanza of queer acceptance makes its way around Lake Eola – organizers expect nearly 100,000 to participate, nearly half the population of the city proper – it arrives as a far different beast than it was a decade ago, and an even further cry from how it began. It’s a year of big change for Come Out With Pride: Most notably, the festivities have been bumped up a day from Sunday to Saturday (Oct. 8), and there’s been some internal structural shifts in leadership. Come Out With Pride has grown into a formidable holiday in its own right, something for Orlando to actually be proud of. It’s a gay Independence Day, replete with strollers and fireworks, drag queens and condo moms, and it is quickly growing into a reliable economic development engine for an unlikely Southern municipality. How did those ill-fated parade routes of yore lead to this day-long luxury lap? Let’s call it human nature.

Local gay historians point to 1983 as Orlando’s first pride moment. Nearly 800 people reportedly turned up for a “Gay Pride Sunday” at Turkey Lake Park back then, before heading down to Church Street for a pride brunch. But it wasn’t a parade until the early ’90s, when four gay activists, collectively known as Orlando Regional Pride, led a self-bankrolled movement down Pine Street, rolling along garbage cans to recoup costs, says Patty Sheehan, Orlando’s only openly gay commissioner.

“I did not get involved until the second or third year,” she writes in an email. “My recollection was that I was proud, but fearful. I had already been demoted at my job for attending the March on Washington, and I was a little worried about being photographed in the newspaper again. My how times change!”

By 2005, after a series of ebbs and flows with the event (one year no permits were pulled and celebrants just walked along the sidewalks of Lake Eola, legend has it), Come Out With Pride – a subsidiary of the gay chamber known as the Metropolitan Business Association – took up the reins of the operation and moved it to Lake Eola, at least in part to coincide with National Coming Out Day in October, but also to move it out of the shadow of the annual GayDays events of June. The inaugural parade was even co-emceed by this reporter, and attendance grew to nearly 20,000.

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