UCF students, staff march in Orlando Pride parade

UCF students march through the streets of downtown Orlando during the annual Come Out With Pride celebration on Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Pam Ferrante.

Nearly 150,000 people gathered in the streets of downtown Orlando Saturday to paint the town red, orange, yellow and every color of the rainbow during the city’s annual Come Out With Pride celebration.

The day also marked the fifth month since the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, where 49 people — including two Knights, Juan Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen — were killed.

Despite the grief of the tragedy hanging in the air, members of the LGBTQ community said that they hoped to show the world their optimism and pride won’t be suppressed.

“I decided to come out to Pride because, in the turn of recent events, I figured it was important to come out and be visible and not be ashamed of who I am” said Mel Essick Varriello, a junior experimental animation major.

This was Varriello’s second time marching with UCF in the annual Pride celebration. He said that he wants to give back to UCF specifically for all of the services it provides for the community, and volunteering to march was her way of showing gratitude.

Varriello, 26, said he hasn’t faced any discrimination in Orlando as a member of the LGBTQ community, but it was a much different story in her hometown. He said it’s the reason why it’s important for Orlando to hold these types of events.

“I lived in a very small town in the Tampa Bay area and people weren’t as accepting and open-minded as the community here in Orlando,” Varriello said. “A lot of people like to think, ‘Oh, we have gay marriage,’ we have all these other issues … we still have a lot more to do.”

It’s a sentiment also shared by Noah Spenser, a senior electrical engineering major. He said that, especially in light of the Pulse tragedy, UCF has become an epicenter of support for the LGBTQ community.

“We became kind of an epicenter of … that side of Orlando. I guess we’re the other major center of people and population and, like, gay stuff,” Spenser, 22, said. “It’s important for us as a UCF community … to show our support for the community of Orlando, for the people we live next to.”

Michael Nunes, a graduate student studying mental health counseling, said that it’s important for UCF students to become involved with the community after everything that’s happened.

“It helps bring the students of UCF to the forefront of everything,” Nunes, 22, said. “It shows that UCF is standing up for this community and is with this community in their times of trouble.”

He said that in light of recent events like the presidential election and the Pulse shootings, these types of celebrations show the world that the LGBTQ community will not hide itself away in a closet again.

“It’s really important for us to show that we’re not afraid and that we’re still here,” Nunes said. “No amount of fear will ever hide us again.”