Life gets busy and events come and go, but recently my son and I had a chance to walk in the Orlando Pride parade in Downtown Orlando and it was a life-altering experience. We walked as proud members of the Hang A Heart crew, who walked directly behind the float built by Pulse Orlando. As you know, the Pulse Orlando Night Club had a horrible shooting just a few months ago and this parade was the first pride parade since the horrific incident. When our family was asked to walk in the parade, we gladly participated.

Why Did We Walk?

As parents to three young children, we know and accept the responsibility we have to teach them valuable life lessons and how to help them find their place in the world. One of those extremely important lessons is acceptance and equality for everyone, no matter what. As our “Hang A Heart Crew” approached the parade route, we were excited. With four bags of personally sewn hearts to hand out to those along the parade route, we were so happy. We took our proud place behind the Pulse Orlando float. While we were waiting we saw several different costumes, some elaborate and some extremely colorful. We also happened to see some men dressed as women! Their makeup was incredible and their costumes were out of this world. While I was holding my son, he asked me when looking at one of the elaborate costumes if it was a “boy or a girl.” I told him that it was a boy that was dressed up as a girl. He then asked me “why would a boy want to dress up as a girl?” And there it was….my opportunity to react in a way that would help in molding the way that he judged others. I was ready for this. In fact, I welcomed it. I asked him…”do you like to dress up as anything?” He responded: “yeah daddy, I love dressing up as superheroes!” It was the perfect opportunity. I then asked him if it made him happy when he dressed up like a superhero and of course his answer was YES! I then explained to him that when those people dressed up, they felt happy too! He then took another look, smiled, and we continued to get our hearts ready for the parade.

The moment was quick and had I not been ready for it, I might have said something like “we will talk about it later honey.” But I didn’t! I was proud to be there for him and I was proud to answer it for him. In fact, I asked him if he wanted to go take a picture with some of the folks dressed in costumes, but he was a bit reluctant. (keep in mind, this kid doesn’t really like costumed characters in the first place…even at Disney)

Strength In Numbers

Walking in such a large group of people was special. I am not sure how many were there in the parade, but I do know exactly how many beautiful white kites were flying in the air behind us. 49. There were 49 beautiful, white kites that were made to symbolize and honor the 49 lives that were lost on June 12, 2016 in Orlando during the Pulse Night Club Tragedy. What was even more poignant to me was who was holding them. Family members, survivors, and loved ones carried these beautiful kites right behind us as we walked the one-mile parade route through Orlando. Our group included a parade float with a wonderful cast of characters, our Hang A Heart Crew passing out hearts to everyone and of course the family members and survivors holding the kites. It was a beautiful scene.

What Did We Learn?

My son learned how to accept everyone for who they are. He was dancing in the streets and passing out hearts and celebrating a day full of love. He walked with me and held my hand as we received cheers and waves from hundreds upon hundreds of folks along the parade route. Finally, we learned that love conquers all. It wasn’t until halfway through the parade route that I was able to have a friend hold my son’s hand while I walked to the front of the float to grab some footage. On the front of the float stood the manager of the Pulse Night Club, Neema Bahrami, in his Pulse shirt. From the front of the float he was screaming “We love you Orlando…Pulse Loves You! Thank you for everything you did for us. We are Orlando United!” He kept saying it over and over again and it was beautiful.

The next time you have an opportunity to explain to your child that there are no “girl things or boy things” or that you have a chance to talk to them about why someone might look different than anything they might have seen before, I encourage you to be ready. Have an answer for them. Give them an opportunity to think for themselves and come to their own decisions. Teaching love and spreading love is something we need now more than ever. Parents…we are united. Together, we will make the world a better place by creating accepting, welcoming, happy people.

To learn more about Hang A Heart and the three amazing children that started this movement, click HERE.

Cory Warren
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