In 2020, Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC) alum Braunwyn Windham-Burke came out as gay. After being married to her husband of 20 years, Sean Burke, and having 7 children, Windham-Burke wanted to live her authentic self.
After two seasons of RHOC, Windham-Burke is no stranger to reality television dramatics. Her life changed instantly when she accepted that orange, but nothing can compare to the scrutiny Windham-Burke has experienced since coming out publicly.
Now, Windham-Burke is a champion for the LGBTQ+ community. Leading a bicoastal life, Windham-Burke is a strong voice in celebration of LGBTQ+ people and sobriety. She has transformed into an activist and proponent of following your heart. She is currently dating Brazilian model and dancer Victoria Brito.
Her philanthropic efforts and advocacy have set her up as a beacon of light that is needed during these dark times. In Orange County, California, where Windham-Burke rose to fame, conservatives still have a strong arm on policies leaving little room for progress in what is infamously known as ‘The Orange Curtain’. For context, with approximately 3.1 million residents, Orange County is 71% White, 34% Latinx, 21% Asian, and 2% Black among other demographics. The median household income in 2020 was $94,441.
This year, Windham-Burke has the honor of being named Grand marshal of OC Pride. The festival and parade that has broken barriers since 1989. Taking place in one of the youngest and most diverse communities in the nation, Santa Ana, OC Pride returns this year for a full in-person celebration after having two years of edited down festivals.
Santa Ana is the original home of OC Pride, a city that has proven time and time again that it values people over profit, culturally rich experiences, and diversity in every form.
With this in mind, OC Pride’s theme this year is ‘Love Out Loud’, an expression that is synonymous with the desire members of the LGBTQ+ community have to live their authentic selves and love whoever they wish, unapologetically.
OC Pride is committed to keeping Pride free for its community that has already experienced disproportionate inequity. While many perspectives on diversity remain the same in Orange County (and while there is much more work to be done), OC Pride is impassioned to be a part of progress. Proof that even in the dark places, you can still find a rainbow.
“At every event we hold there is always someone that comes up to one of us and thanks us, tells us their story, and why pride is important to them,” says Kim Sauvageau, OC Pride President “I think that’s really why we do this. It’s all those stories, you’re reaching people, giving them a space to truly feel like themselves. There have been bumps in the road and it is not always easy. As an organization that strives for inclusiveness we make it a point to have a group of organizers that reflects the many faces of the Orange County LGBTQIA+ community.”
The free festival and parade will take place on June 25 in Downtown Santa Ana. Parade will kick-off the celebration at 10 a.m. and the one-day festival begins at 11:30 a.m. The festival will feature two stages, a giant dance tent, a Pride Speaks speakers series in partnership with the OC LGBT Center, a leather/kink space, a Trans lounge, a teen zone, a kid’s zone, vendors, resources, food trucks, and more!
Headlining the festival this year are Mo Heart (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Big Dipper, Pepper Mashay, Madison Rose, Madame LaQueer (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Boi Band, Leandra Rose (La Más Draga).
Information on OC Pride can be found at prideoc.com.
Ahead of her appearance as Grand Marshal of the 2022 OC Pride Festival and Parade, Braunwyn Windham-Burke shared her perspective on Pride and what it means to be a voice for the community.
INSTINCT: What has life been like for you since coming out?
BRAUNWYN WINDHAM-BURKE: That’s such a simple question with such big answers. It’s so nice to be able to live life authentically and openly. There’s also been some really hard things about it- having to redefine my marriage and the idea of what my future looks like. You know, having to break out of what was such a white picket fence, comfortable life. There’s been some low moments, but at the end of the day, being able to love who I love openly and experience life as a gay woman has been so tremendously.
INSTINCT: How’s life after Housewives?
BWB: Life after Housewives has been a rollercoaster- during the last season, I got sober, came out, and survived a pandemic. It was coming out of housewives into an entire new life with really high highs and really low lows. Leaving housewives was leaving one chapter and entering a new one. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and platform Housewives gave me to now be able to connect with the LGBTQ+ and sober communities.
INSTINCT: What do you hope your story will teach others?
BWB: The biggest part in sharing my story is inspiring others to share theirs. In opening up to each other, we connect and grow. Representation MATTERS. It’s much easier to hate an idea than it is to hate a person. By forming connections and sharing our truths, we can inspire each other to do the same.
INSTINCT: What does Pride mean to you?
BWB: Pride is about showing the world that we exist, we are here, and we aren’t going anywhere. There are over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills on the docket right now- guess what? We aren’t going anywhere. Pride means you are never alone.
INSTINCT: How do you celebrate?
BWB: As a sober woman, pride has taken on a different meaning. It’s not about the endless parties- it’s about the connection in the communities, it’s about showing up, and celebrating with my queer kids.
INSTINCT: What does it mean to you to be recognized as the Grand marshal for OC Pride?
BWB: It means everything. My coming out story was not easy- it was meant with a lot of suspicion and disbelief. Being honored as the Grand marshal of OC pride means that women who come out later in life are being heard. I’m honored to be a role model for parents and the younger generation to not only say “it’s okay to be who you are” but to celebrate it loudly.
INSTINCT: What are you looking forward to most at the OC Pride Festival and Parade this year?
BWB: I’m excited to not only celebrate in the city and county that I live in, but to celebrate with my mom, friends and my children. Contrary to popular belief these days, pride IS a family event.
INSTINCT: Being familiar with Orange County, why is it important to have inclusive events like OC Pride?
BWB: Historically, the OC is a very conservative and small minded place. As you can tell from the Housewives show, I was met with a lot of homophobia from my castmates. Having people stand up and say “this is our town, too. We will not be marginalized nor minimized” is important. Being the first gay housewife wasn’t easy, but it’s already opened the doors for others, and that’s what counts. Hopefully having representation in OC pride will sound the alarm to the community that queer folks live here and are not going anywhere.
INSTINCT: What’s next for you?
BWB: I have a lot of projects on the docket, a lot to do with sobriety and LGBTQ+. I am so excited to share when I can. I’m a big chatterbox, so it’s a miracle I haven’t given anything away yet.
Follow OC Pride for a month long of activities and celebration as it culminates with this year’s festival and parade in Downtown Santa Ana, California.