Come Out With Pride 2015 organizers celebrate a smooth event

By : Jamie Hyman
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Orlando – They put in the time, the sweat and the effort year after year, but for many Come Out With Pride board members, 2015 marked the first time they ever had a chance to ride in the parade, getting an expansive view of the results of a year of hard work.

“It was a very emotional time for [the board members],” says Michael Thomas, COWP’s finance director. “They all cried like babies. It was so overwhelming to know you were a big part of this, and seeing [the festival] from on a float is a whole different perspective than just watching it to go by.”

It may have been especially poignant because in November of 2014, it looked like COWP 2015 might not happen at all. The Board was suspended, its executive director fired amid fraud accusations and the finances were a mess. Since then, COWP – with the support of the Metropolitan Business Association, COWP’s umbrella organization – regrouped and pitched in to make sure COWP 2015 would not only exist, but that it would be a quality, fun event with a focus on giving back to the community.

Andrew Gilette, COWP executive producer of operations, has been on the board for three years and says this year’s event was “one of our best years we’ve ever had.”

Sum of its parts
COWP closed out the 2014 event about $50,000 in debt, according to Thomas, but the opposite is the case for 2015.

“We paid all the vendors for the event [ahead of time] and we paid the $50,000 debt we started the event with, from 2014,” Thomas says. “We’re still finalizing all the books and numbers. We’re definitely in the black.”

As of press time, Thomas wasn’t able to give a final figure of funds raised since a few financial matters were still being reconciled, but he confirms that they cleared “a minimum of $20,000.”

One big moneymaker for 2015 was a classic element – the parade.

“I think last year almost 30 percent of the parade was comped,” Thomas says. “This year, zero percent.”

With one exception – Thomas says they gave a free slot to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, but not his campaign for reelection. That group paid.

In fact, Thomas says tightening the reins on giveaways event-wide helped them stay in the black.

“One of the reasons we did really well this year is in past, show management gave away a lot of comps,” he says. “This year, we just tightened down the hatches. We gave away very little; we stuck to our guns. It worked.”

Thomas says other profitable aspects were the Club H2O dance party, with $13,000 in revenue from cover charges and bar sales, and the VIP area by the Lake Eola bandshell, which charged about 100 people $75 each for access. Their dinner and fireworks event was also a moneymaker, with about 85 guests paying $75 each for their meal and preferred seating.

Honor society
Three LGBT youth received $1,000 scholarships courtesy of COWP. Michael Morrison, Adam Manno, and Haley Zilberberg accepted the scholarships during the rally.

The scholarships were COWP’s way of giving new life to Pride Gives Back, a grants and scholarship program that had become neglected in recent years.

Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan jumpstarted the return of Pride Gives Back with a city grant for $5,000, with $3,000 of that earmarked for the scholarships, which Sheehan presented. All three of the recipients study at UCF.

COWP also recognized Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille with the Debbie Simmons Community Service Award.

“[The Pride Board] wanted to recognize folks in the community who have done a lot around community engagement, around the theme of uniting people,” says Gillette. “We thought the recipient did a nice job being visible and positive in the community and always being a force for good.”

Mary Meeks, Orlando attorney and LGBT activist, hosted the rally which included speeches by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, City Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell and gay state representative David Richardson.

“All of these elected officials on stage here today are allies who don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” Meeks said to the COWP crowd. “Politicians who just spout empty platitudes are not our allies. We deserve officials who believe in equality and are willing to stand up and fight with us and for us.”

The rally also featured representatives from Equality Florida and Joan Rodriguez, an activist who fought for marriage equality.

Flow chart
Gillette and Thomas report that when it came to how smoothly the event ran, they received positive feedback from their city partners.

“I think some of the new things we tried worked really well. I thought the marketplace setup with all the vendors in the corner of the park was really nice, helped balance the flow in that part of the park,” Gillette says. “[The Orlando Police Department] said [COWP] should be the standard for how events should be done, in terms of our relationship with the police and fire departments.”

Thomas says the GLBT Center of Central Florida provided more than 100 volunteers, the first time event organizers had an excess of help.

“It, by far, was the smoothest, best event ever,” he says. “There was a point at about 11:30 a.m. where most of the directors were together, and we were looking at each other, like, shouldn’t there be a crisis right now? It just ran smoothly. The city submitted their summary and said, in their opinion, that it was the smoothest event COWP ever had.”

Thomas agrees that the vendor marketplace layout helped keep the festival flowing.

“[The new layout] made guests easier to see vendors, and they got better exposure,” he says. “Some people thought we had fewer guests, but we just opened the flow better. The park flowed better.”

So far, there is no attendance estimate number from Orlando police, as they’ve done in years past, but Gillette says police told him COWP 2015 “felt busier.”

“They felt there were more people in the park and on the parade route than there have been in prior years,” Gillette says. “It tends to grow every year.”

He adds that he plans to continue to volunteer for COWP.

“This year was a lot of changes, so we’re going to meet later this month and reevaluate how we’re going to structure the roles,” Gillette says. “And that’s typically something we do after every event, look at the roles, what each person was responsible for, try to rebalance, even out the workload, make sure it makes sense.”

The COWP Board has already announced the date for next year’s Orlando Pride: October 8, 2016.

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