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OutServe Magazine | March 17, 2013

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Let’s Go! Orlando

Let’s Go! Orlando

By David Small

Tinkerbell didn’t single-handedly turn Orlando gay with her fairy dust. As much as we’d like to think the campy euphoria that is Walt Disney World made the city a gay-favorite locale, it actually started, partly at least, as a byproduct of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interstate highway system.

In the 1960s, Interstate-4 connecting Daytona Beach with Tampa saw construction through Orlando, which dried up the business of a bygone-era travelodge. With traffic rerouted on I-4, this motel fell victim to prostitutes and drug addicts.

The same year Walt Disney World opened its Magic Kingdom in 1975, Bill Miller and Michael Hodges purchased the dilapidated motel property and repurposed it as a gay resort with an international draw—the Parliament House was born.

With the foundation built by regular visitors to the Parliament House over nearly 40 years, not to mention the gay-friendly attitude by the world’s happiest place on Earth—Disney—Orlando now enjoys wide recognition as an open, tolerant city that celebrates its diversity. It truly is a small world after all.

Richard Florida (how appropriate) describes in his book The Rise of the Creative Class how the inventive and talented cast members drawn to Orlando with the opening of three resort developments and eight theme parks also triggered the transformation. Central Florida has drawn artists, entertainers, actors, designers and computer geeks, who happen to be disproportionately gay and lesbian, helping create the inclusive environment of the city.

Today, the percentage of LGBT people in Orlando is among the highest in the nation: 7.7 percent of the city’s total population. This year, The Advocate pronounced that Orlando is second only to Salt Lake City, Utah, as the “gayest” city in America.

Flying in the face of the conse

rvative South, today Orlando has domestic partnership registries, same-sex partner benefits for government workers, non-discrimination ordinances and openly gay elected officials.

Orlando offers much more to LGBT travelers than theme parks: popular gay events, a growing live music and fun club scene, arts, concerts and film festivals. The city has charming neighborhoods and a vibrant downtown.

The city also hosts Gay Days, an annual series of events held in the first week in June, drawing an estimated 125,000 visitors. Additionally, during the first week of October, the weeklong Come Out With Pride festival draws almost as many gays and lesbians to the half dozen more mainstream LGBT events.

While there is no real gay city center like Dupont, Boystown, Chelsea or the Castro, Orlando has several gayborhoods. Lake Eola Park, with its massive signature fountain, is downtown and a great place to stroll and shop. Don’t miss the adjacent Thornton Park with its restaurants with outside seating for great people watching. The Lake Ivanhoe district is home for antique shops. College Park has a great gay following with its many restaurants. Park Avenue in Winter Park has a wonderful upscale strip of shops and eating and drinking establishments. Mount Dora, a short ride northwest, is a quaint historic area. Kissimmee, to the south, has an artsy strip with a really eclectic mix of shops.

As OutServe members attending the group’s second annual International Leadership Conference storm the city, consider visiting the website to create an individualized itinerary. The site only lists hotspots, hotels and accommodations that their LGBT staff have investigated and vetted for inclusiveness. Click “club ’til dawn,” “fun with Butch (a dog),” “kids magic,” “outdoor pilgrimage,” “retro cruising,” “romantic kickback,” or “water and sun” to see the itinerary of other LGBT travelers and their recommendations.

“My friends and I recently spent a week in Orlando at the suggestion of another friend,” said Christopher and his pals about his club-’til-dawn itinerary. “We had a non-stop party! What a fun, trendy city. What great clubs they have, both gay and gay-friendly. Being in our 20s, we were initially concerned that Orlando was just geared for the theme park crowd; were we ever wrong. The clubs were filled with the cutest guys, and the music and atmosphere was exactly what we wanted.”

For dining, consider downtown, which is generally defined as a 12-by-12–block area intersected north to south by Orange Avenue and east to west by Central Boulevard. Nearly 100 restaurants and cafes are in the downtown and adjacent areas. Check out OutServe Magazine’s list of recommendations: Let’s Go! Orlando: OutServe’s Picks

2012 International Leadership Conference

OutServe’s second annual International Leadership Conference will take place Oct. 25 – 28, 2012, at the Shades of Green Resort in Orlando, Fl.

“Disney’s support of the military and LGBT communities goes hand in hand with the support and sponsorship provided by Orlando Gay Travel, Come Out with Pride Orlando and the Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando and is why we chose Orlando as our 2012 destination,” said Ty Walrod, co-director of OutServe.

This year’s conference will feature multiple panels in overlapping sessions. Participants will be able to choose from the following topics:

• The Palm Center will present its yearlong study on how DADT has impacted (or more likely not impacted) readiness after a year of being repealed;

• Numerous LGBT family-focused panels are planned, including health and mental health needs of LGBT military families and various marriage discussions—these panels will be presented by the Military Partners and Families Coalition, the Military Families Research Institute, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Military Partners Association;

• A series of panels will discuss transgender issues, including transitioning in the workplace;

• Health matters for LGBT service members will be discussed in panels about suicide, as well as how DADT caused LGBT service members to circumvent health care, an issue OutServe Magazine tackled in 2011;

• The popular international panel returns from last year’s conference to help benchmark how our coalition partners are serving, out;

• With the notoriety of various ceremonies being conducted on base, the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy will present a couple of panels related to LGBT issues and the chaplaincy;

• Members of Bagram Air Field’s chapter in Afghanistan will present a piece on being deployed and gay;

• Other panel topics will include the electoral landscape of this election cycle, finance, workplace inclusion, and leadership.

With the ongoing veteran employment crisis, OutServe will also host a job fair during the event that will be open to veterans and employers. OutServe events during the conference will take place at various locations on Walt Disney World properties.

The conference will welcome currently serving LGBT and straight military members, veterans, spouses/partners, and allies to join workshops and meetings. Like the 2011 conference, it will provide an international forum on creating an environment of respect in the military with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity and provide the LGBT military community a venue for building professional networks, sharing best practices and formulating strategies that help build a stronger military community.

OutServe’s International Leadership Conference is the only conference designed around and for LGBT members of the largest fighting force in the world. The 2011 OutServe Conference in Las Vegas boasted more than 200 attendees, including several from allied nations and an assistant secretary of defense.

“We have made tremendous progress with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said 1Lt. Josh Seefried, USAF, and co-director of OutServe. “LGBT military members must be visible and confident, showing the leadership that will set the example for future generations of service members.”

The Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and Courage Campaign will be co-sponsoring the OutServe Conference. Announcements regarding additional sponsors, schedule of events and attendees will be posted at

Shades of Green Welcomes OutServe in October

There are plenty of gay-friendly hotels in Orlando—heck, the biggest, gayest bar in Orlando is a hotel. Well, motel. OutServe, however, chose Shades of Green, the military resort on Disney’s grounds, as its host hotel for its conference.

Shades of Green is one of only two Armed Forces Recreation Centers in the continental United States. Opened in 1994, it is only accessible to military personnel. Its oversized guest rooms and cascading waterfalls amid stunning sunrises provide rest and relaxation for the nation’s service members and their families.

“As conferences can be expensive, one of the reasons we selected this hotel was their tiered pricing, making it a more affordable option for enlisted members. We’ve gone out of our way to make it as affordable as possible,” said Lt. Col. Todd Burton, a member of OutServe’s actively serving leadership council.

Given the hotel’s aim to serve the military family, it will be a refreshing change to expose the hotel and its guests to the gay military family. Having said that, conference attendees should expect a multitude of the smaller varietal of family members when dining at the resort’s featured restaurant, Mangino’s Bistro.

To escape to a more grown-up atmosphere while still on the resort grounds, visit the three-level Magnolia Spa with a range of services expected at any high-end spa. If you’re of the sporting type, Shades of Green is surrounded by two PGA Championship golf courses with military rates. To keep up your workout regimen and ensure you can maintain a six-pack for your Mickey or Minnie while on vacation, there is a fitness center on site and jogging paths between neighboring resorts. So pack your Pumas.

Mainstream nightlife is a short shuttle ride from the resort, but nothing is walking distance. Downtown Disney is a fun place to peruse restaurants and shops, but the former gay-ish nightclub, Mannequins Dance Palace with its revolving dance floor, closed with the rest of the clubs on Pleasure Island in 2008 as part of a revitalization project called Hyperion Wharf, which has yet to open.