The Orlando Gay Pride Parade truly came out of the closet and into the limelight in 2005 and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The driving force behind its revival one decade ago was Michael Thomas, “Orlando’s Founder of Pride.” Orlando honored Thomas by naming him Grand Marshall for this year’s festival.
Come Out With Pride Orlando prior to 2005 was held in the month of June, in coordination with the major Pride celebrations around the country. However, Gay Days, Orlando’s other major LGBT event, was executed the same month. With two back-to-back LGBT events, Orlando’s community and sponsors were exhausted and spread thin. Attendance at its peak reached 2000 people
Looking to get more involved in the execution of Come Out With Pride Orlando in 2005, Thomas attended their production meeting. With an expired permit and licensing, Pride needed a new organization to run their event. As a board member and with the greatest of intentions for the celebration, Thomas brought the festival to the Metropolitan Business Association (MBA), Central Florida’s LBGT chamber of commerce. He recommended that they run it and take it on as their own. The MBA agreed with Thomas and Pride moved to their hands.
The first act of business Thomas pushed for was a date change and October met the mark. Not only did it align with National Coming Out Day (October 11th) and National Gay and Lesbian History Month, it could take advantage of the cooler fall days and would help distinguish Pride from Gay Days.
The first event was scheduled for October 9th, 2005 at the History Center. The first year Pride rested with the MBA it drew a crowd of 5000 people, more than double its peak. Two years later the event moved to its current location, Lake Eola, and attracted upward of 120,000 people. Come Out With Pride Orlando is now the largest Pride festival in all of Florida.
Today, the festival builds unity and cohesiveness within our local community and encourages the rest of the country to rally to the side of our LGBT community. Between the vendors, entertainment offerings, Disney Kids Zone, parade, fireworks, variety of food and beverage choices, and as of 2012, the return of the LGBT film festival and implementation of World Showcase, there is something for everyone and never a dull moment. It is also the mission of the event to give back to its community through charitable initiatives, such as an annual scholarship to the University of Central Florida Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Union and donations to a variety of local LGBT organizations.
Thomas was instrumental in the development and deserves the recognition. His involvement in the local LGBT community did not stop there. Thomas is the owner of John Michael Exquisite Weddings and Catering, which specializes in same-sex marriage, personally helped found The Wedding Alliance, a local organization that provides resources to all members of the LGBT+ wedding community and takes part in charitable organizations of all kinds.
The event was expected to bring in an estimated $3 million during its week of celebration. 150,000 attendees partook in the celebrations. Up to 15% of guests came from other Florida cities and another 5% from out-of-state or abroad. Large names like Disney, Universal and Starbucks were part of the 104 organizations to participate in the parade.
Now it’s time to get ready for next year: Saturday, October 10th, 2015.
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