This is a city that gets it right, even in a state that is so wrong

JENNY BLOCK | Contributing Writer

Some days it feels hard to celebrate. But the truth is, celebrating is more important now than ever. As I think about Pride season approaching — not that we shouldn’t be celebrating it all year round — I think about how we celebrate when there’s so much not right with the world right now.

It made me think about when I attended Pride in Orlando in the Fall of 2023. Orlando is a place I consider “the model of doing it right,” despite being in a state that seems hell bent on doing it wrong. In fact, I think Orlando deserves an extra gold star for always doing the right thing when their own state government refuses to.

It’s interesting, because as Orlando continues to be a friend and ally to the LGBTQ community, it continues to enjoy more and more success as a travel destination, especially when it comes to food. In fact, Orlando’s food scene is even featured in an episode of Netflix’s series Somebody Feed Phil.

One of the stops on the episode includes Se7en Bites, a MICHELIN-recommended, Southern-inspired bakery and restaurant which is LGBTQ-owned and part of The Milk District near downtown Orlando. On the episode, host Phil Rosenthal meets Se7en Bites owner, chef and baker Trina Gregory-Propst, as well as Pulse survivor and activist Brandon Wolf. He also visits Capa at Four Seasons Resort Orlando, which is the only MICHELIN-Starred restaurant in Florida led by a woman chef of Asian descent, Malyna Si.

Orlando now has 51 MICHELIN Guide restaurants, including at least five new entries for 2024, and it has a Best Chef candidate in this year’s James Beard semi-finals.

When it comes to dining, Orlando has it going on.

And when it comes to our LGBTQ community, Orlanda definitely is on the right side. When the Human Rights Campaign released its annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), Orlando scored 100 for the 10th consecutive year.

That should come as no surprise considering all the work the city is doing, including providing funding to Zebra Youth to help homeless LGBTQ youth; requiring contractors to have policies against gender identity- and sexual orientation-based discrimination for contracts with Orlando; updating the Orlando Police Department’s Transgender Persons Policy to include protections for nonbinary individuals; recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month in Orlando and supporting the Come Out With Pride Parade and Festival.

There is so much to see and do in Orlando. It’s like a multitude of places in one, with all of its distinct areas and neighborhoods. You can go to Winter Park and take the boat tour; visit The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to see the incredible Tiffany Glass collection, and do some stellar shopping.

You can visit Disney World and ride all of the rides and eat all of the food at Magic Kingdom, or take a walk on the wild side at Animal Kingdom. You can wander Mills 50 where you can go on a mural tour and grab a bite at Tori Tori. You can visit Downtown, and explore Lake Eola, and catch a show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

And that’s just a taste of it all.

As I celebrated Pride weekend in this multi-layered city, I remembered that as hard as things are, we have a lot to celebrate. And when we don’t celebrate, the bad guys win.

When we don’t spend our travel dollars in the places that support us, the bad guys win.

When we don’t help elevate the places we love who love us by sharing their stories, the bad guys win.

So, when I went to Orlando on this latest trip, I made sure I had a few extra days to take in some of the fun. I went to Sea World for Howl-O-Scream and scared the pants off myself. I ate myself into oblivion at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. And, of course, I went to Hamburger Mary’s for drag brunch.

I also went to the Pulse Memorial where I read the stories of the lives lost too soon in the name of hate. And then I went to the Come Out With Pride Festival and Parade and the after Festival Celebration.

I felt so full and so grateful and so honored to live in a world where you can always find people doing the right thing even when things seem the bleakest.

It was a fun trip. I love the city of Orlando. But more than that, it was a powerful reminder of the good in the world and the work that’s being done and the hope that we have every right to have.

As I walked through Sea World, I was grateful for the staff and guests who said hello to our clearly gay gaggle. The same goes for our visit to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Everyone we encountered was just happy to be happy. I cried a little at drag brunch, at how grateful I was that, thus far, the bad guys haven’t managed to take away this joyful pastime.

And I cried a lot at the Pulse Memorial. I cried because of the people we lost. And I cried because of how hard so many people are working to keep the memory of those people alive. May their memory be a blessing.

Don’t stop celebrating. Don’t stop remembering. And don’t ever, ever stop sharing your story. The bad guys will keep trying and still, with a nod to the words of Maya Angelou, we will rise.


Where to stay in Orlando

• Lake Nona Wave Hotel: Very cool digs with all the tech. Plus, great bars and a killer restaurant.
• Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort: As swanky as it gets with just the chicest Disney elements, like hidden Mickeys and a fireworks chandelier.
• AC Hotel by Marriott Orlando Downtown: Great location if you’re going to Pride with a really fun rooftop bar and restaurant.