ABOVE: COWP’s Most Colorful Parade at downtown Orlando in 2017. Photo by Brian Becnel
ORLANDO | Come Out With Pride (COWP) is gearing up for its most colorful day of the year — its 14th annual Pride festival and parade held on Oct. 13.
Aligning with National Coming Out Day and LGBTQ History Month, COWP is one of the largest Pride events in Florida with over 160,000 attendees last year. COWP President Jeff Prystajko says there will likely be even more this year.
“We are seeing increased interest on our social media and website so I think that’s a good sign,” he says. “We are hoping to see more people at all of our events this year.”
Before the parade begins, the Orlando Immunology Center and the Orlando Weekly host Big Gay Brunch at The Abbey starting at noon, and will feature a spread from Seasons 52.
Proceeds from the brunch will benefit Pride Gives Back, an initiative by COWP to give grants to local LGBTQ groups and students. Prystajko says giving back to the community is what makes COWP more than just a celebration.
“The money that we raise, if it’s not going back to paying for the event itself, it’s going back to the community in the form of grants and scholarships,” he says. “So different nonprofits and students are able to have better lives and better opportunities based on the revenue we’re able to bring in.”
Applications are still open for the grants and the chosen recipients will be announced at a later date.
The festival will open at noon around Orlando’s Lake Eola where attendees can visit the Pride Marketplace. Prystajko says nearly 160 vendors have already signed up to participate. This year, they’re closing off Robinson St. to house the Marketplace.
Pride Takes Action, a section of the festival that features local advocacy groups and organizations, is back this year as well.
Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition, says they plan to participate in Pride Takes Action because of the opportunity to speak with people who may not otherwise have heard of what they do. Zebra Coalition is a nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth in Central Florida.
“Pride is our biggest event of the year,” Wilkie says. “It’s a way to raise awareness about what we do and hopefully reach more youth as a result.”
Prystajko says COWP aims to make festival goers aware of opportunities to get involved. “We find that a lot of people attending, over half according to a survey we did last year, are wanting to do something positive for the community,” he says. “So all that we can do to help harness that energy and focus it towards some of the different ways people can get engaged, that’s where I feel we are able to elevate Pride here in the city.”
By moving the Marketplace, COWP was able to open up a section of Lake Eola to add in another entertainment area — the Pride Stage. “It’s going to be a place for people to congregate, put down blankets and relax,” Prystajko says. “It’s going to be a much more efficient use of space.”
Along with the new Pride Stage, COWP will have entertainment back at the Amphitheater Stage this year as well. Guests can see live performances from different artists starting at 1 p.m. on the Pride Stage and 2 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage.
The Most Colorful Parade kicks off at 4 p.m. with over 150 groups and floats making the one-mile journey through downtown Orlando to showcase their Pride.
The parade’s Grand Marshals experienced a last minute change when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage had to back out due to a scheduling conflict. As a result, this year’s Community Grand Marshal Nancy Rosado will be joined by Visage’s “Drag Race” co-judge, and original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” fashion guru, Carson Kressley. Kressley will serve as the parade’s Talent Grand Marshal.
After the parade, festival guests can head over to the Pride Rally held at the Amphitheater Stage at 6 p.m. where several community leaders will speak before the 2018 Community Champion Award winner is announced. Past award winners have included Patty Sheehan and Jim Phillips.Headlining performances by international pop singer Betty Who and dance music legend Crystal Waters will follow.
The festival will conclude with the signature fireworks show over Lake Eola at 9 p.m., along with the new Picnic Under the Stars. Guests will receive a blanket and picnic basket with assorted food and drinks while enjoying a front row seat to the fireworks show.
Following the festival, Pride is hosting two official after parties — one at Parliament House and another at Stonewall Orlando.
Parliament House will feature Kressley, “Drag Race” star Monet X Change and “Drag Race All Star,” Orlando’s own Ginger Minj. There will be free parking at Parliament House with a shuttle going to Lake Eola throughout the day.
Stonewall Bar will feature cast members from the hit FX series “Pose,” including Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore. Prystajko says he hopes festival guests will leave with more than just a smile on their face.
“It’s not just a celebration, it’s about what it started with and that’s fighting for the continued rights of LGBTQ individuals,” he says. “We want people to know that there are still things left to fight for and we want people to know how they can get involved.”
For more information on the rest of the week’s events and price listings, visit WatermarkOnline.com to the official COWP guide.