South Beach Seventh Top Gay Destination in TIA Survey
Last month, the Travel Industry Association (TIA) released the results of a survey to assess the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) travel market. Panelists chose South Beach as top seventh destination out of 21 other U.S. cities for gay-friendliness. San Francisco ranked first, followed by Florida’s Key West at second. Local neighbors to the north Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach came in at thirteenth and eighteenth, respectively. Gay-friendly refers to destinations that are open, tolerant, safe, diverse—not just to tourism hot spots that offer gay-specific nightlife or entertainment.
Consideration and Equal Respect
I recently had the pleasure of conversing with Michael Sassar, local author, publicist, political consultant and expert on gay issues, on the evolution of South Beach as a gay-friendly destination. The area’s general urban renewal, beginning in the mid-1980s was key, even though a more gay-friendly and tolerant community had yet to develop. “Cheap prices, quaint architecture, artists, galleries and iconic gay clubs were appealing even before the development boom and continued well into the 1990s,” according to Michael.
Today, many of those gay clubs, which had been subject to high-profile raids, are history. Yet fewer gay-specific, exclusive attractions haven’t changed South Beach’s appeal, in part because gay life has become very integrated. “South Beach is America’s true 21st century city,” says Michael. “A model city for true diversity.”
South Beach wasn’t always what Michael calls “orientation libertarian.” In the 1970s, beauty queen Anita Bryant, the famous face of Florida orange juice commercials, went on a crusade against homosexuals after then Dade County passed an anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation. Bryant founded an organization called Save Our Children, which used hoped to protect children from “homosexual recruitment” and her campaign succeeded in repealing the law.
In the years to come, Bryant continued to push an anti-homosexual agenda but by 1988 Dade County reinstated the anti-discrimination ordinance. In 1992, the City of Miami Beach commission adopted an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The culture of tolerance continued to evolve with additional protection and domestic partnership laws, thanks in part to the progressive thinking of Miami Beach’s past three mayors.
Although I’m not gay and haven’t experienced this city as such, I do know this much: today, if you want visible proof of how far the city has embraced diversity, take a seat Saturday night somewhere near the corner of Meridian Avenue and Lincoln Road. Within one hour of people-watching, you’ll see bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages, dressed in a variety of ways and you’ll also spot lovers of all persuasions holding hands. Whenever I hear or read any remarks about South Beach stereotypes, I close my eyes and think of this nexus of vibrant human diversity.
Miami Gay Events
As gay culture has become more integrated, there are still however unique Miami events that bring in GLBT travelers from around the world. In March, Winter Party Festival features celebrity DJs and parties benefiting the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and local Miami-Dade LGBT organizations. The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival takes place in April and focuses on enriching, entertaining and educating the public via the art of film. In May, Aqua Girl caters to women, with events on South Beach including DJs and recording artists. White Party in November has become legendary with a week of fundraising parties benefiting the HIV/AIDS cause.
Check magazine racks at local establishments for free Wire Magazine, a great resource for residents and tourists on gay topics and events. (No website available but Books and Books on Lincoln Road, for example, is a sure spot to find a copy.)
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