Pride is a word that once carried a negative connotation. One of the original seven deadly sins, it was seen as something shameful and immoral. In the years after the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the word Pride was taken up as sign of honor, respect and loyalty by the LGBTQ community.
Pride became how we stood up for ourselves and celebrated who we are. Nearly 20 years later we celebrated the first National Coming Out Day Oct. 11, 1988. Pride was applied to something everyone in the community had to do no matter which letter you identified with in the LGBTQ spectrum. The significance of that day was to mark the one year anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
We find Pride events across the U.S. centered on these two key moments in our history. Orlando’s Pride celebration is one of those as we celebrate around National Coming Out Day; Come Out With Pride Oct. 14.
Last year’s COWP celebration was focused on a community in mourning. The event took place only a few months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history when an attack on Pulse left 49 dead, 53 injured and a city shaken.
This year, COWP wanted a theme that did not ignore what happened in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, but one that showed the amazing resilience, compassion and love that the community—and the city—showed in the tragedy’s aftermath. The theme is #KeepDancingOrlando.
The hashtag was created several weeks after the Pulse shooting when a Central Florida agency watched host Jimmy Fallon speak about the people of Orlando on The Tonight Show.
“When I think of Orlando I think of nothing but fun, and joy, and families. If anyone can do it, you can. Keep loving each other, keep respecting each other and keep on dancing,” Fallon said.
With those final words, this agency, which has chosen to remain unnamed, created a video that showed the resilience of our city.
Opening with The Tonight Show host’s words, a picture familiar to the people of Orlando appears: the fountain at Lake Eola. A woman walks by holding a boombox (kids go ask your parents what that is) and onto the stage of the famous bandshell. She puts a cassette in the tape deck (again kids, ask your parents) and, to the beat of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Sombody,” she dances.
The two minute video cuts to people around Orlando as they dance. From Lake Eola, Disney and Universal to the Parliament House and UCF, the people of Orlando showed that they would keep dancing.
The video was a viral sensation reaching nearly two million views on Facebook. The group that created the video launched a website and a hashtag, #KeepDancingOrlando.
“Forty-nine beautiful souls were taken at Pulse, but their spirit dances on in all of us,” the website reads. ”Let’s cherish their memory and celebrate their lives by dancing in their honor. Let’s show the world that love conquers all–that joy and happiness can’t be stopped. Now more than ever before, Orlando is The City Beautiful. We will recover. We will grow stronger. We will keep dancing.”
As COWP 2017 approached, there was no one theme that embodied the spirit of Orlando more than #KeepDancingOrlando. With the blessing and full support of KeepDancingOrlando.com, COWP started putting all their best moves into place.
“This isn’t just a hashtag we are putting out there. It’s a movement and it is going to permeate everything,” says Jeff Prystajko, COWP’s director of marketing and communications.
Come Out With Pride will kick off with the official Pride Launch Party at The Veranda Oct. 12 and the Pride on Church Street block party at Hamburger Mary’s Oct. 13.
COWP’s big day starts with the Big Gay Brunch, presented by the Orlando Immunology Center and sponsored by Orlando Weekly, at The Abbey Oct. 14.
Expect huge crowds (last year was nearly 150,000 people) to surround Lake Eola for COWP’s parade and festival.
“There is going to be a section of the park carved out specifically for an all day dance party called the #KeepDancingOrlando Zone,” Prystajko says. “There will also be dancing in the parade and we are letting groups and organizations marching in the parade know to make it fun. Put together a dance move, bring some music. We are definitely going to have music on [the COWP] float. We want to get the crowd excited and what better way to do that than to set the mood and get the crowd pumped.”
One group in the parade sure to bring their own music is the Talent Grand Marshal, the Orlando Gay Chorus.
“I think having the Orlando Gay Chorus as one of the Grand Marshals is going to be such a great presence in the parade,” Prystajko says.
The OGC will be joined in dance and celebration by the parades other Grand Marshals: Orange County’s first transgender deputy, Rebecca Storozuk, is the parade’s Community Grand Marshal. Tony Mauss will be representing his late husband, Billy Manes, who was named the parade’s Honorary Grand Marshal.
“We also have a couple of entertainers lined up for the main stage,” Prystajko says. “So it is literally going to be dancing all day, everywhere around the festival.”
The day will not only be focusing on dancing, but on the importance of getting involved in LGBTQ causes.
“There are so many different things affecting the LGBTQ community that, as a Pride organization, we don’t have the resources or the manpower to be able to attack each one,” Prystajko says. “But we can guide you to the resources and organizations where people can actually get informed and help to make an impact.”
The initiative is called Pride Takes Action and COWP is hoping that you not only remember to dance Oct. 14, but also that you remember to get involved and make a difference in the community. Throughout the festival, COWP will be pointing people to organizations and businesses that are committed to making the world a better place.
“I think in the past maybe we haven’t given the people enough opportunities, but we want to turn that around,” Prystajko says. “We want to make sure people know that if you want to get involved with the political process, if you want to sign petitions, if you want to fight for gun control, if you want to help stem HIV and other diseases impacting the gay community, if you want to fight for equal rights, there are organizations and there are places to go at our festival where you can talk to the people who are in the trenches and get involved.”
COWP will have nearly three dozen organizations, groups and businesses taking part in Pride Takes Action at the Pride festival this year. The list includes Equality Florida, Hope & Help, The Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, FCKH8, Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation, Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, the Zebra Coalition, The Dru Project, the Orlando Youth Alliance and PFLAG Orlando & Central Florida, just to name a few.
“Pride is a day when you have thousands of people coming together, and a lot of those people are there to party and have a good time, but a lot of people also realize that this is a day where we can take some action and make a difference,” Prystajko says.
For more information on the events of COWP or to find out how to get involved with a cause you are passionate about, visit ComeOutWithPride.com.