If you want to know what makes Orlando, Florida such a special place to visit, Tatiana Quiroga (she/ella) is the person to ask.
Tatiana Quiroga is an enthusiastic activist for the LGBTQIA+ and Latinx community, and has held various advocacy roles. Most recently, she was appointed Executive Director for Come Out With Pride, Inc. Previous to this she was the Director of Family Equity & Diversity with Family Equality, a national nonprofit advocating for LGBTQIA+ families. Additionally, Tatiana serves on the board of directors for Zebra Coalition as Development Committee Chair. Originally from La Paz, Bolivia, Tatiana immigrated to the US and is a strong advocate for social justice, racial and gender equity, and the LGBTQIA+ movement. She lives in the Orlando area with her wife, Jen West, and their two children.
Orlando is filled with many wonderful things just waiting to be experienced and enjoyed. From unique local business to art galleries, museums, theaters, scenic tours, farm to fork restaurants, and spectacular adventures in nature. Join us as we explore this beautiful and exciting LGBTQIA+ destination with Tatiana Quiroga.
Tell us about yourself and what you do for a living?
When I chose University of Central Florida in 1996, I unknowingly chose my new home. Somehow, months turned into years, and years turned into decades. After graduating with a Bachelor or Arts in psychology, I dove into the nonprofit sector. Quickly, I realized I needed a graduate’s degree, and I earned my Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling from Rollins College. The two schools couldn’t be more different and that’s one of the things I love most about Orlando! Diversity is in our communal fabric: the food, the cultures, the activities, and especially the people. People come here from all over the world, making us such a unique city. There’s never a dull moment, which is one of the reasons I can’t imagine ever moving somewhere else.
My wife and I started dating in 2004. Since Marriage Equality wasn’t the law of the land yet, we traveled to Massachusetts to be legally married in 2009. My wife was bitten by the baby bug and we shortly started our family adventure. Trying to create an LGBTQIA+ family in Orlando wasn’t as big of a challenge as we anticipated. We easily found a fertility doctor who helped guide us through our journey, and what a journey it was! Our first son was born in Orlando’s renown Winnie Palmer Hospital in October 2011. For the most part, navigating Central Florida as a two mom family has been great. We found a local social media group of LGBTQIA+ families and attended monthly meetups for years. Eventually, we met some of our closest friends through this playgroup. We decided we wanted to expand our family one more time. It took almost two years, but our youngest kiddo was born in March of 2016. We intentionally decided to stay in Orlando to raise our children. It is home for us. We live a few minutes north of Orlando, where the pace is slower, the traffic is less, and the forest is thicker.
Besides being a full time wife and boymom, I’m the Executive Director of Come Out With Pride, our local pride organization. We have the honor and pleasure of hosting Orlando’s annual pride celebration. I am so grateful to hold my dream job! Having fought in the LGBTQIA+ movement for years, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to directly impact the lives of my local community and our allies. Since I’m the first Executive Director, I have the chance to chart the path forward.
How long have you been living in Orlando and why did you first move here?
I moved to Orlando in 1996 to attend the University of Central Florida. Once I graduated, I started working in the non-profit sector, where I quickly realized I wanted to pursue my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. For a completely different schooling experience, I attended Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in the heart of historic Winter Park. Rollins College is the second oldest college in Florida, known for its prestigious reputation and absolutely beautiful campus off the banks of Lake Virginia. Winter Park is a hidden gem a few minutes north of Orlando. With lavish houses and cobblestone streets, the boutiques and high-end restaurants are fun, glamorous, chic places to shop and grab a delicious glass of wine and a swanky meal.
What are your favorite places to go for a cocktail and/or dinner?
I feel so fortunate that here in Orlando we have strong lesbian community leaders who are top business owners! Whenever possible, my wife and I sneak away to enjoy Se7en Bites, where chef and owner Trina Gregory-Propst is cooking mouthwatering Southern comfort food with a modern twist and baking finger licking desserts and treats! No wonder she’s famous and has been featured on the Food Network several times. My absolute favorite is the Grilled Pimento Cheese with Bacon Sandwich, accompanied by her homemade Coffee Cake Slice for dessert. Most times I ask for it to-go and eat it on the drive home. As a huge supporter of Come Out With Pride and past Grand Marshal for our Pride parade, it’s always a pleasure to see Trina in action!
When we are feeling fancy and want to truly enjoy delicious wine and good friends, we head over to Quantum Leap Winery, where owner Jill Ramsier is such a gracious host. Over the last 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on a board of directors for a local nonprofit with Jill, where I enjoy hearing about her travel all over the world as she explores more wine partnering opportunities to bring back to Orlando. Quantum Leap Winery is beautiful with a sophisticated feel, yet rustic with the exposed wooden barrels in the back room where countless events are often hosted. We are always ensured a great time when visiting the Quantum Leap Winery.
Which cultural attractions are a must see for visitors to Orlando?
Besides our world class theme parks, Orlando has some cultural gems. The Orlando Museum of Art is a wonderful place to appreciate masterpieces from all over the country with monthly exhibits. The Orlando Science Center has a variety of exhibits, which explore everything from the natural habitat of Central Florida to the solar system. One of the most interesting local attractions is our Orange County Regional History Center. Just a few minutes walk from Lake Eola in the heart of downtown Orlando, the History Center delves into the real history of Orlando, including our First People, African Americans, and the theme parks. It’s a great way to more deeply appreciate Orlando and our surrounding area. Last but not least, if you have the heart for it, we invite you to visit the Pulse Memorial. It’s the heart wrenching site of the massacre, and also a sobering reminder of our reality as LGBTQIA+ people, still experiencing violence, discrimination and hatred. It’s a memorial where you are welcome to bring flowers, leave a trinket from home, write a note to our 49 angels, or just take in the silence. As an LGBTQIA+ person, I think it’s important for us to pay our respect to those 49 beautiful souls who were taken too soon. If you look carefully, you will notice Pulse memorials throughout Central Florida. The Pulse tragedy deeply impacted our community and our allies, forever changing our fabric and leaving a mark on our history. We are #OrlandoStrong and #KeepDancingOrlando
What are the most exciting annual events in Orlando?
Well, our most exciting annual event is Come Out With Pride, our annual LGBTQIA+ Pride celebration, which will be October 21, 2023! In the heart of LGBTQ+ History Month, and a few days after National Coming Out Day, we take over downtown Orlando at Lake Eola Park and color it rainbow. With over 200,000 guests in 2022, we are one of the largest Prides in the southeast and the longest parade in Orlando history. As the Executive Director of Come Out With Pride, it warms my heart to know, as a world renowned city, Orlando’s largest event is an LGBTQIA+ celebration! I think that really speaks to the culture of our city. Days before the celebration, our city streets and businesses proudly fly their pride flags and light up the buildings with rainbow colors, indicating that we are a welcoming, inclusive and accepting community.
Starting at noon, Come Out With Pride is a festival and marketplace with all day entertainment on three stages, our Most Colorful Parade kicks off at 4 P.M., national recognized headliners take the stage around 8 P.M., and we close this magical day with a grand finale and magnificent firework show over Lake Eola at 9:30 P.M.. We have something for everyone, including a family zone, teen zone, a sober space, and a hyper-local showcase, where you can find Orlando’s best merchants, pop-up shops, restaurants. and talent. Pride intentionally created this space to highlight LGBTQIA+ and minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
All members of the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies are welcome to join us! As a parent of two kiddos, I know the importance of our accepting spaces, especially for our children and youth. It’s critical for our kids to see other families that look like theirs, for them to see other youth so they know they aren’t alone, and for us to cultivate pride and power in our upcoming generation. Plus, our Pride is a fun and welcoming atmosphere, where you can let your hair down, grab a cocktail or craft beer, taste a treat from our countless food vendors, stroll our marketplace, dance to our rhythm and music, enjoy our spectacular entertainment, and most importantly be your authentic self and bring whomever you love!
Being in the heart of Orlando, Lake Eola is in a prime location and walking distance from countless restaurants, bars, and hotels, making it extremely easy and convenient to come and stay for a few days. Downtown Orlando is centrally located just minutes from our world famous theme parks, just steps away from majestic gayborhoods, and a short drive from our State Park, Wekiva Springs.
Where are the best places to truly enjoy the natural beauty of the area?
Well, I’m in love with our wild life. My family and I live within walking distance from the State Park, Wekiva River and natural springs. So, it’s a very common occurrence for us to have deer, black bears, wild turkeys, turtles, and an occasional alligator in our yard. Our kids love to picnic at the park and swim in the clear, emerald waters of the natural springs, where we go kayaking, tubing, and fishing. Our lush green palm trees create the most beautiful hammocks, which provide tranquility, shade, and a perfect place to enjoy the peacefulness of nature. When we feel adventurous, my kiddos love to take airboat rides on our countless lakes, exploring the exciting wildlife since we are at the head of the everglades. For a more chill experience outside, we stroll around Lake Eola, feeding the swans, ducks, and geese, and enjoy the beautiful scenery, all while being just a few steps away from restaurants and ice cream shops.
Being in the heart of Florida, Orlando has so many opportunities to explore our natural beauty. Our beaches are only a short drive either east or west. When we can, my wife and I sneak away for a day trip to watch the sunrise on the east coast, at Cocoa Beach, and then mosey over to the west coast to watch the sunset at Clearwater Beach! Where else can you do that?
A friend is coming to Orlando for the first time… Please describe the perfect weekend.
For a friend visiting from out of town, I suggest staying at one of our downtown hotels, giving you the best central location in the heart of Orlando. Everything you need and want is either a short walk or drive away. You can easily jump on I4 and head over to the theme parks, go to the beach, or explore the bustling downtown Orlando. For me, a perfect Friday night is a fruity drink, ocean side with a fresh seafood dinner. There’s nothing like feeling the sand between your toes and hearing the waves crashing. Saturday morning, I suggest a late breakfast or early lunch at Se7enBites. You can’t go too late or you’ll have to wait for a table! With a full belly, I would head to the Wekiva Springs State Park to enjoy a dip in the natural spring or a serene and tranquil kayak ride. On the way back to downtown Orlando, I would stop by swanky Winter Park for a posh dinner and drinks. For Saturday night, you can dance the night away during lesbian night at Southern Nights, an Orlando LGBTQIA+ bar and nightclub, and a staple of the community. Sunday morning is recovery brunch at The Hammered Lamb, another LGBTQIA+ regular hangout. Once you’ve gotten your fill, I would say head over to the Orlando Farmers Market. It’s a great way to see and taste the best of local Orlando merchants and food vendors. It’s that small town friendly vibe in the heart of downtown Orlando!
What’s one souvenir to make sure to bring back from Orlando for friends or family?
Orlando is a very diverse city with people coming from various backgrounds and lived experiences, making our community unique and rich. My favorite souvenirs to share are the products made from our local citrus farms: jellies, candies, citrus honey, and even wine. On a warm early summer evening, you know it’s orange season in Florida, when the orange blossoms are blooming and the air is so sweet—it smells like home!
Please finish this sentence: Don’t leave Orlando without…
Seeing the real Orlando. Enjoy our theme parks, but experience our local gems. We are more than you think!
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