beckons South Florida gays from Miami-Dade
| South Florida
June 19, 2008
There was a party every night. A velvet rope, an out-of-town DJ, a visiting drag queen.
There were over-the-top nightclubs that reinvented life after dark. If you were
gay and looking to be part of the South Florida scene 10 years ago, South Beach
didn't just beckon. It screamed.
Flash forward to 2008.
It's Monday night, the unofficial "gay night" at La Bamba, a Mexican restaurant in Oakland Park, and the
overflow crowd — mostly men in their 30s through 50s and a few women — is lined
up out the door, margaritas in hand.
On any other night, La Bamba is just another place to
eat tacos. But everybody knows that Mondays here aren't so much about food, but
about a spontaneous coming together.
Welcome to Broward County,
the new center of gay South Florida, where even dinner on a weeknight is
community-building. Leaving behind its heady days of South Beach excess, South
Florida's gay community has moved north and redefined itself. Call it settling
down. Calling it finding the comforts of home.
A home with a growing community center, which hosts such diverse events as
women's basketball, bridge, Overeaters Anonymous and transgender support
A home with two gay pride celebrations, such as this weekend's ninth Stonewall
Street Festival in Wilton Manors.
A home with a gay library and archive dedicated to preserving gay history.
Bill Mears recently moved from South Beach to Wilton Manors, where an estimated
40 percent of residents are gay, according to census data.
"I left Miami Beach because it was kind of unfriendly," Mears, 48,
says. "I'm not going to necessarily say because it wasn't gay enough.
There's a gay presence there, but there wasn't a gay hangout. Socially, it was
In Wilton Manors, Mears goes to an almost all-gay gym. He's not much of a partyer, but occasionally goes out for happy hour. In his
everyday life — at Publix, on the street — he sees many more gay people than he
ever did in Miami.
"There's a level of acceptance here," he says. "It's comfort.
gay resort town
More than 30,000 people are expected at this weekend's
festival, which marks the 38th anniversary of the June 1969 Stonewall riots in
New York City.
Miami-Dade County has no such festival, although the city of Miami Beach will
for the first time sponsor a pride event next April.
"People say there's no sense of pride because we don't have gay pride
events," says Steve Adkins, president of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian
Chamber of Commerce. "[But] we have so many major events here in
Miami-Dade that are put on by the gay community that they just suck the life
out of us because they require so much money and so much volunteer support."
Those events are the White Party and Winter Party, Miami-Dade's two annual gay
circuit parties. About 80 percent of those who attend live outside South
Florida. The parties contribute to Miami's international reputation. Fort
Lauderdale was named favorite gay resort town in last year's Out Traveler Readers'
Choice Awards. It's now the fifth most popular U.S. destination for gay
tourists after New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are
just three gay guesthouses in Miami-Dade and two in Palm Beach County.
Broward has more than 30.
"It's not as ethnically diverse as Miami-Dade County," Adkins says of
"but it certainly has all the aspects of a liberal urban environment. But
the model in Broward
County is certainly much more of the traditional gay ghetto where
everyone lives within a big circle and has held on to what I call the old gay
South Beach now has just a few gay bars. Broward, on the other hand, has more
than 150 gay-owned businesses and more gay bars than anyone can keep count of,
places where you can eat a burger, watch a Marlins game, dance country
and western, play competitive billiards, take in a drag show or share quiet
conversation and a bottle of wine.
"I don't know that you can have strong gay tourism if you don't have a
strong and stable gay community," says Nicki
Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and
Visitors Bureau and grand marshal of Saturday's pride parade. "If you have
a large gay population then the word goes out to travelers that GLBT residents
and travelers are accepted and in fact welcome."
Last year, 1 million gay visitors contributed $1.2 billion to the local
economy, according to the visitors bureau.
Broward has created an impressive gay infrastructure that
continues to grow.
The Stonewall Library and Archives, one of the
largest gay and lesbian libraries in the country, has raised $650,000 for a new
home that will double its size to 4,400 square feet.
Next week, Broward's Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida closes on a new multimillion-dollar home in Wilton Manors.
The only other South Florida community center is West Palm Beach's Compass,
which has produced the Pride Festival of the Palm Beaches every March for the
past 15 years.
"We're very cognizant that Broward County
is one of the fastest-growing gay communities in the country," says Kareem
Tabsch, of the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival,
which this year created a separate Fort Lauderdale festival. "Our demographic
has moved to Broward
All of this strengthens its stature as the capital of gay South
"God sent me here and I know it," says Bobby Kyser,
chairman of the Stonewall Street Festival, who moved from Louisville, Ky., two
He sold the insurance business that he'd built over 20 years and opened a
florist shop in Wilton Manors. "I think it's fabulous here. I would never
John Tanasychuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stonewall Street Festival
annual festival in Wilton Manors begins at
7 p.m. Saturday with a parade at 8 p.m. and continues until midnight with DJ
On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., community organizations and
businesses will line Wilton Drive from 16th Street to Five Points. There will
be live entertainment all day with headliner Crystal Waters at 2 p.m
Reprinted with permission from Sun-Sentinel.