Orlando's Pride this weekend will take place in the shadow of a national tragedy and after a delay caused by a hurricane. Now the event has the distinction of being the first major Pride event following the election of Donald Trump as president. More than ever, organizers say, this Pride festival will serve as a rallying call for LGBT rights during a time when people feel under renewed threat.
"With everything that has happened in Orlando this year, we are eager to see not just the LGBTQ community but also straight allies will come out in support of our community," said Jeff Prystajko, director of marketing and communications for Orlando Come Out With Pride.
The event takes on special meaning as Orlando still reels with the continued aftermath of the shooting at Pulse. A Fort Pierce, Fla., man went into the gay club June 12 and launched the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, with the gunman and 49 others killed. The city of Orlando this week announced it had negotiated an agreement to buy the gay nightclub and install a permanent memorial there.
Sara Grossman, communications director for the Dru Project, says the loss suffered serves as a dark reminder that many still seek to do physical harm to LGBT people, making Orlando Pride vital. "Pride means exactly what it's supposed to mean this year," she said, "that we should continue to be proud and continue to show our faces in our community and move forward."
The Dru Project launched after the shooting in memory of Drew Leinonen, a 13-year friend of Grossman since both attended the University of Central Florida. Leinonen had started a gay-straight alliance at his high school, so the Dru Project now funds similar organizations and offers scholarships. The organization will have a presence at Pride this year.
Pulse survivors and city first responders will serve as grand marshals at the parade and have waited some time to do so. The Pride parade originally was scheduled in the Friendly City for October 8, but the threat of Hurricane Matthew made it impossible to move ahead. Instead, the event got rescheduled to November 12, this Saturday. A launch party was held Thursday at the Verandah, and Lake Eola Park on Saturday will host events all day.
Now Pride will be held the same day as Orlando's Veterans Day parade and festivities. The new date was arranged with the help of the city, Prystajko said.
The logistics of planning an event in three weeks that originally was months in the making have proven challenging. The Taste of Pride foodie event will have a smaller number of chefs than originally planned, but prices have been dropped to $95 to make the event accessible to more people. As for entertainment, many of the actors originally expected in October couldn't reschedule, but singer Brian Justin Crum, who recently appeared on America's Got Talent, will still attend the Saturday festivities. And Katya from RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars announced she will attend. Queer as Folk cast members Michelle Clunie and Scott Lowell will reunite at the event. Singer and LGBT ally Alexx Mack has joined the roster, and Broadway stars Max von Essen, Max Crumm, and Darius de Haas will also be there. Comedian Alec Mapa, truTV star Scott Nevins, and trans celebrity Jazz Jennings will make appearances, as will as a number of other out entertainers.
Of course, the event also comes in the wake of a stinging defeat in the 2016 election for LGBT causes. In addition to Trump's election as president, Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection in Florida.
Christopher Hansen, one of the heroes from Pulse, attended the Out 100 event in New York before flying home for the Orlando Pride event before Saturday. The heroes of Pulse were named today as this year's People of the Year by The Advocate. Hansen says Pride marks a chance for LGBT people to stand for their cause in peaceful assembly. "We are going to continue to show our strength and our pride and our love for each other," he said. "We will not have riots in the street and be crazy and chaotic, and if this election was the other way around it may have been that way."
But this year, the Orlando LGBT community has been through worse than disappointing election returns and still soldiers on. "Many people may feel even more lost now, disappointed and looking for answers," Prystajko noted. "We hope that by coming together as a community, we can unite and rally to protect everything we've fought so hard to achieve."