Explore Orlando

Out in Orlando: A Guide for LGBT Visitors

With theme parks and attractions like Disney and Universal and LGBT-themed events such as Gay Days and Come Out With Pride, it is no surprise Orlando is so popular with LGBT visitors.

Orlando is home to the third largest LGBT population in the country and the largest in Florida. It is no surprise Orlando is so popular with LGBT visitors. Orlando has theme parks and attractions like Disney and Universal where fantasy becomes reality. Orlando has LGBT-themed events such as Gay Days and Come Out With Pride. Couple that with trendy neighborhoods, world-class shopping, well-known LGBT clubs and bars and sophisticated dining, and Orlando has all the characteristics of the perfect place for the LGBT community to come together, come out and have fun.

In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub, that took the lives of 49 people and injured 53, safety is the number-one priority for the City of Orlando, its theme parks, attractions and venues across the destination so that the LGBT community can enjoy Orlando as they always have.

"From the LGBT perspective, it will not deter us from going to Orlando," John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association told CBS MoneyWatch. "If anything, it will likely drive more travel to Orlando as it's typical in our community to want to show support."

A survey of readers of Curve, a leading lesbian magazine, found Orlando was the top vacation destination for LGBT families.

The City of Orlando and Orange County boast LGBT protections for both visitors and residents in the form of Domestic Partner Registries, giving same-sex couples many of the same basic rights afforded straight couples. The state of Florida also recently began recognizing same-sex marriages, and Walt Disney World is a popular venue for gay weddings.

Gay Days Orlando
Gay Days Orlando welcomes more than 150,000 members of the LGBT community to Orlando each year. (Courtesy Gay Days)

Gay Days

Since 1991, gay men and lesbian women from around the world have made Orlando an epicenter of pride. Gay Days Orlando, an entire week of exciting events centered around the downtown area, theme parks and attractions, has grown to achieve record-breaking attendance of more than 150,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals and their family and friends.

One of the best things about this get-together is that it appeals to a huge range of ages, tastes and styles. Gay Days is the perfect venue for friends from different backgrounds to vacation together. Held annually on the first week in June, Gay Days is one of the biggest unofficial gay pride events in the world. The six-day event includes 17 pool parties, a business expo, a comic-book convention, a film festival, an after-hours trip to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon waterpark, tie-dying for the kids and drink specials for the adults. It all culminates with a trip to Walt Disney World when the community dons red shirts to signify pride and support. Those who have previously attended know how moving the experience can be.

Other annual LGBT-centric events include the black-tie Love Headdress Ball benefitting the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, Girls in Wonderland at the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort and Come Out With Pride, an annual pride parade celebrated in October and featuring more than 150,000 participants.

Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival Loch Haven Park Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre
The Orlando Fringe Festival annually touring alternative theatre productions in venues across the city. (Courtesy Orlando Fringe)

Sophisticated Dining With a Nightlife Culture

In the theme parks and beyond, Orlando is a foodie’s paradise, with more James Beard-nominated and celebrity chefs than you can name in one breath. It’s also home to high-end malls and boutiques offering the hottest fashion from some of the world’s most celebrated brands. Plus, a vibrant arts scene is elevating cultural offerings to new heights.

In Orlando’s historic College Park neighborhood, visitors enjoy a walkable main street district speckled with specialty shops and gourmet restaurants along with the LGBT-owned and operated The Spa, offering pampering treatments in a cozy yet luxurious atmosphere. Nearby there’s also Winter Park’s Park Avenue, packed with fine dining and trendy boutiques, along with The Alfond Inn, a boutique hotel located across from picturesque Rollins College.

Touring Broadway productions and some of the biggest names in music and comedy grace the stage of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, named by Travel + Leisure magazine as "World’s Coolest New Tourist Attractions 2015" and among their “Best Places to Travel in 2015.” Disney Springs is home to the renown Cirque du Soleil production “La Nouba,” presenting breathtaking, high-flying acts, ornate costumes and electrifying music. Gay-friendly performers like Selena Gomez, Cher, Lady GaGa and Miley Cirus also frequently bring their tours to Orlando venues like the Amway Center and Camping World Stadium (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl).

But when the sun goes down, the LGBT community goes out and Orlando has plenty of places for partiers to play. Southern Nights, a home to the LGBT Community for decades, hosts special events every night of the week including drag shows, burlesque and college nights. Southern Nights recently implemented new security measures in response to the recent attack including a doubled police presence, private security inside, metal detectors and more. Savoy is another popular club for the LGBT crowd featuring go-go dancers, shirtless bartenders and an outdoor patio.

Parliament House remains a must for visitors and has been a destination for the LGBT community for more than 40 years. Located on 10 acres on the shores of beautiful Rock Lake in downtown Orlando, the entertainment resort sports seven unique bars, a budget-friendly hotel and the Footlight Theatre, home to the Footlight Players and performances by contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Parliament House also has an RCI vacation resort called The Gardens. South Beach-style villas are nestled amid a lagoon-style pool with rock formation waterfalls, multiple spas and a health and fitness center.

For visitors in the mood for red meat or searching for something to do on a Tuesday, look no further than Hamburger Mary’s and its weekly drag bingo tournaments. Hosted by entertainers Miss Sammy and Carol Lee, the show is very popular so reservations are recommended. Your mouth will water for their variety of gourmet burgers with creative names like Buffy the Hamburger Slayer.

Orlando United
The OneOrlando Fund, set up and managed by the City of Orlando, benefits those impacted by the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub. (Courtesy Orlando City Soccer)

How You Can Help

If you want to help the victims and their families, the City of Orlando has set up the ‪#‎OneOrlando fund to respond to the needs of the Orlando community, now and in the time to come, after the effects of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. The distribution of funds will be administered by the Central Florida Foundation, which serves as the region’s community foundation and is home to more than 400 charitable funds. The fund will support the families of deceased, survivors, Pulse staff; nonprofits that are supporting the victims and families, the LGBTQ, Hispanic, faith-based and other affected communities. The organization plans to combat the underlying causes of this tragic event.

Lake Eola Park Rainbow
The iconic fountain at Lake Eola Park remains illuminated with rainbow colors in honor of Orlando's LGBT community. (Courtesy Lake Eola Park)