Trans girl, 11, leads Orlando Pride parade: ‘It’s about being true to yourself’

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Eleven-year-old transgender girl Dempsey Jara, the youngest grand marshal in the history of Orlando’s Come Out With Pride parade, had a message Saturday when she took the stage at Lake Eola Park.

“Being transgender is not about a choice,” Dempsey said while wearing a princess-style gown. “It’s about being true to myself. It’s about embracing who I am even when the world tries to tell me otherwise. It’s about standing tall in my identity even when it’s really hard.”

Her mother Jaime Jara, 45, a schoolteacher, beamed beside her on stage. Off stage, she said her youngest child has always known who she was.

“She’s just always gravitated toward girl things, girls’ toys. We didn’t have any of that stuff at home. She has two older brothers,” Jaime said. “She’d say, ‘I’m a girl in my heart and my brain.’ She’s been on this journey since she was 5 and she’s living her best life.”

The annual pride event, in its 18th year according to Visit Orlando, also featured a two-hour parade of rainbow-adorned floats sponsored by businesses, unions, politicians and even churches, all pledging support for a community frustrated by a spate of state legislation they say was intended to erode their personal freedoms.

Neither organizers nor Orlando police provided crowd estimates but the downtown park was packed.

More than 200,000 people were expected to gather for the daylong celebration which was to conclude with fireworks and performances by LaLa Ri and Monet X Change, former winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race reality show.

Former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, the first openly LGBTQ+ Latino legislator in Florida, said the crowd was impressive and encouraging in spite of the Republican-led Legislature’s animosity and hostility during the spring session.

“Despite Ron DeSantis’ efforts to censor and erase our community, LGBTQ Orlandans are celebrating pride in record numbers,” the Democrat said in a text message. “We marched for the freedom and equality of all Floridians, not just some.

“While anti-LGBTQ politicians want fear and intimidation, we see HOPE as the answer and LOVE is our resistance.”

The governor signed six bills this year labeled by critics as anti-LGBTQ+, including five on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia intended to celebrate sexual and gender diversities.

The measures included HB 1438, which sponsors called “The Protection of Children Act.”

The statute allows state authorities to punish businesses that admit a child to an adult live performance, defined in the law as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience, which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or specific sexual activities … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

Under the law restaurants, bars and other venues risk loss of their business and liquor licenses and employees could face first-degree misdemeanor charges for “knowingly” admitting children to an adult live performance.

The measure does not specifically mention drag shows but it was introduced after the DeSantis administration complained about venues, including at the Plaza Live in Orlando, where children were seen in the audience at drag shows.

Concerns about the law led to cancellation of Tampa’s annual Pride on the River event in May. But Come Out with Pride organizers said they never considered canceling.

Hamburger Mary’s, a downtown Orlando restaurant that for years has hosted drag shows, persuaded a U.S. District Court judge in June to issue an injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 11 rejected a request to modify the injunction.