Orlando – What a difference a decade makes.
Orlando’s Come Out With Pride celebration turns ten this year, and the event has seen changes and shifts since its debut in 2004. Public perception towards the LGBT community has most certainly shifted towards acceptance, which in turn has helped laws affecting gays and lesbians—such as marriage equality, adoption, and non-discrimination—pass on local, state-wide, and national levels.
But 10 years ago, the debut of COWP also meant a calendar shift for the local community’s annual Pride celebration from June to October. Prior to COWP, Central Florida typically held Pride events around the last weekend of June. That weekend is frequently seen as the “traditional” Pride weekend in the United States as it commemorates the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots in New York City, a pivotal moment in LGBT history. As Gay Days at Disney World grew in popularity and attendance, interest in Orlando’s Pride events seemingly fell by the wayside. The local sentiment seemed to be: How much celebrating of being gay can Central Florida support in one month’s time? Once each Gay Days wrapped, Orlando’s LGBT community appeared to be too “gay-ed out” to celebrate—let alone financially support—Pride just a few weeks later.
Leaders from Orlando’s Metropolitan Business Association, the area’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce, partnered with the University of Central Florida’s LGBT student group to create a new Pride event, one that would be held instead in October in conjunction with National Coming Out Day. Originated in 1988, the date of Oct. 11 was chosen for NCOD because it was the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The move made Pride in Orlando a new destination weekend, not only for the local gay and lesbian community, but also to attract LGBT tourism dollars.
And the move has worked. That first COWP, a single-day event held in Heritage Square Park, featured a performance from a little-known American Idol Season Three finalist… though despite coming in only seventh on the TV singing competition show Jennifer Hudson has gone on to become one of today’s top R&B recording artists, not to mention winning both a Grammy and an Oscar. COWP now involves a week’s worth of events, with an entire concert series sponsored by local radio station XL 106.7.
COWP Executive Director & Senior Executive Producer Mikael Audebert says the concert series is part of the organization’s overall goals.
“One of my approaches since taking over Come Out With Pride has been to attempt to narrow the gap between our communities,” said Audebert. “One way to do it is to bring people with similar interests and likes together, in one room or at one event, so they can actually engage in conversations, get to know each other and go beyond their sexual orientations to truly create a human connection. For the straight community, the past three years, Pride has also been their celebration. It has helped create new friendships and certainly helped us take our mission further.”
Audebert credits XL 106.7 with assessing and selecting artists that have an interest in promoting equality, whether it’s through their songs or by attaching their names to the LGBT movement towards equality. And when it comes to relevance, COWP couldn’t do much better than securing the singer of the current number one song in the country, Meghan Trainor, especially when the self-acceptance theme of “All About That Bass” is one that rings loud and clear with gays and lesbians.
Other artists appearing throughout the week include Clean Bandit (Monday, Oct. 6, at Firestone Live), AJR (appearing with Trainor Wed., Oct. 8, at The Abbey), and Capital Cities (Thurs., Oct. 9, as part of COWP’s Opening Ceremonies at Heritage Square at the Orange County History Center).
Additionally, the Parliament House will present Lil’ Kim in concert at the gay resort as part of its after-Pride party Sat., Oct. 11. And for those who can’t attend but still want to be part of the action, XL 106.7 is scheduled to broadcast live all of the Pride In Concert events.
The radio station is also sponsoring a “Faces of Pride” contest where listeners are invited to apply to become the Face of Pride, winning VIP tickets and treatment to all of the week’s events, including riding on the Wells Fargo stage coach in the parade.
Also new this year: an “Out at Aquatica” daytime event at SeaWorld’s water park on Friday, Oct. 10. Audebert says the day of showing pride at one of Orlando’s top tourist destinations will be similar to the previous evening’s third annual Pride at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios on Thurs., Oct. 9.
The Friday night block party relocates from Church Street Station to Orange Avenue at Lake Ivanhoe in the Ivanhoe District, bringing yet another one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods onboard for the celebration. Church Street organizers are instead launching the return of Rain, a once-popular Tuesday gay night at the Kirkman Road club, at the Orchid Garden at Church Street Station on Tuesday, Oct. 7. Plans call for the party to become a once-a-month special event.
Wednesday’s opening ceremonies at Heritage Square, which include a time capsule ceremony, presided over by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, returns at least one part of COWP to its original location.
“This is Come Out With Pride’s tenth anniversary so we have gone all out to make sure we celebrate 10 years of coming out…with pride, but also to ensure we don’t forget the pioneers who started the movement in the early nineties,” said Audebert.