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Fort Lauderdale Gay News and Headlines

Broward beckons South Florida gays from Miami-Dade

| South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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 meetings.

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 just nowhere."

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. It's ease."

Favorite 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 Broward County, "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 lifestyle."

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.

Fast-growing community

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 County."

All of this strengthens its stature as the capital of gay South Florida

"God sent me here and I know it," says Bobby Kyser, chairman of the Stonewall Street Festival, who moved from Louisville, Ky., two years ago.

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 move."

John Tanasychuk can be reached at jtanasychuk@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4632.

Stonewall Street Festival

The ninth annual festival in Wilton Manors begins at 7 p.m. Saturday with a parade at 8 p.m. and continues until midnight with DJ Joe Bermudez.


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.

 



 
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