ORLANDO, Fla. — Thousands of people flooded the streets in downtown Orlando for this year’s Come Out With Pride festival on Saturday.
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All eyes were on Lake Eola for the fireworks show Saturday evening, which finished off a day filled with music, dancing and a sea of colors in the packed crowds.
Eric Messer attended the parade earlier in the day and said he loved seeing people celebrate and accept everyone for who they are.
“My fiance and I came up for Pride with our friends because we love to celebrate and be proud,” Eric Messer said.
That feeling of pride and joy was the same story for most people at this year’s Come Out With Pride festival.
Read: Guide to pride: What to know about Coming Out with Pride Orlando this weekend
But for others, being at big events still brings a sense of uneasiness and concern.
“When you hear that sound ... with everything going on, it is kind of like instinct to, like, duck and cover,” Angelie Oyola said.
Oyola was referencing the last time there was a big event around Lake Eola.
Crowds ran for cover when people thought they heard gunshots during the Fourth of July fireworks, but the noise was nothing more than a scare.
Later in July, seven people were hurt in a downtown shooting outside of some bars near Wall Street Plaza and Orange Avenue, and Oyola’s sister witnessed the scene.
“She was just shocked it was happening the same time (that) she was there, too,” she said.
City councilors passed a new downtown safety plan about a month later.
Read: Here’s what the new ordinance to keep downtown Orlando safe could include
Andrew Blake said he has seen a difference in the police presence.
“I used to not see very many cops at all, but now they’re at every corner,” Blake said. “They’re lurking.”
While the city always ramps up security during major events, Killian Cromwell said this year’s Pride festival was on another level.
“They’ve stepped up with everything: with security, blocking off roads, making sure people get safe to their cars,” he said.
In addition to more officers on the ground, this year’s events also included the Secret Service protecting First Lady Jill Biden, who made an appearance at the event.
Read: Come Out With Pride festival kicks off in Orlando, First Lady Jill Biden speaks
She was part of the festivities and spoke to the Orlando community at City Hall before the parade, urging people to vote in the upcoming election and make sure their voices are heard.
“You’ve been on the front lines, speaking up, showing up, demanding the dignity and justice that you deserve,” the first lady said.
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