Vilanch Grand Marshal For Orlando’s Gay Pride Parade

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Gay-pride march celebrates ruling
By Alicia A. Caldwell
Sentinel Staff Writer

June 29, 2003

“We are legal,” the sign read in black, block letters.

The sign was simple — black marker on white poster board — but hugely significant to Jeffrey Miller, an Orlando attorney and openly gay man. The three words represented what Miller called “the most passionate opinion I’ve ever read.”

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas sodomy law was the hot topic at Saturday’s soggy Central Florida Pride 2003 parade and celebration. Miller, who marched in the parade with hundreds of other gays and lesbians, said the timing of the decision was significant.

The 6-3 landmark decision, which protects the privacy rights of gays and lesbians, was handed down two days before the annual celebration, which was not scheduled to coincide with the court’s decision.

“It’s either an incredible coincidence or it’s a gift from the Supreme Court,” Miller said.

Others in attendance at Saturday’s parade and celebration in downtown Orlando echoed Miller’s thoughts.

About an hour before the 7 p.m. parade, Carlos Velázquez, director of programming for the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization in Washington, D.C., said it was interesting that former Sen. Strom Thurmond, long known for his views on segregation, died on the same day that the Supreme Court ruled.

“Maybe there is a shifting in the political paradigm . . . one that hopefully will die forever,” said Velázquez, whose group set up an information table at Church Street. The ruling, he said, is “on the top of everybody’s mind [here] because it is a fundamental stand on privacy.”

But he said the decision will not immediately change the opinions of those prejudiced against homosexuals.

“No law is going to change cultural attitudes,” but it’s a start, Velázquez said.

Velázquez’s words seemed almost prophetic a short time later. As the parade inched along Orange Avenue toward Church Street, two Ocoee brothers stood praying, reading Scripture and appealing to the hordes of gays and lesbians to “repent” and be saved by faith.

“No Supreme Court, no city government . . . can change the law of God,” Charles Norris, 43, said as passing revelers jeered him. “It’s not a popular thing to tell the truth.”

Though politics and religion were present, the focus of Saturday’s event — pride — was not lost on any of the event’s participants, including City Council member Patty Sheehan.

Sheehan, who is lesbian, proudly proclaimed that she was wearing her first pair of leather pants as she piloted a small scooter behind a group of more menacing motorcycles.

“This is great,” Sheehan shouted as she sped off to close a gap in the parade.

Also in attendance Saturday was fellow City Council member Daisy Lynum, who cruised along Orange Avenue in the back of a convertible Ford Mustang adorned with rainbow flags.

Comedian and writer Bruce Vilanch, known for his bright red glasses and bushy blond hair, served as the grand marshal for Saturday’s parade.

Despite intermittent rain showers, hundreds of onlookers lined Orange Avenue from Concord to Church streets for the parade and filled Church Street for a party afterward.