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Being Gay in South Florida

May 14, 2012

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HAVANA — The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro said during a rousing gay rights march Saturday that her father advocated eliminating sexual discrimination, and reiterated her own hope the country would soon legalize same sex marriage.  [AP story, May 13, 2012]  

Now that would be ironic, wouldn’t it?  Because the State of Florida is not exactly gay-friendly.

In 1997 the Florida state legislature passed its own “Defense of Marriage Act”, barring legal recognition of same sex relationships including those recognized by other states.  In November 2008, the state constitution was amended to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions in Florida—a measure supported by then-governor Charlie Crist despite rampant rumors that Crist himself was gay and married (a woman) just to get political cover and maybe the Republican VP slot.

By state law, individuals in LGBT relationships are entitled to no rights or responsibilities that pertain to their relationship.  Moreover, Florida is the only state that bars adoption of children by gay parents—though the constitutional challenge to that law is still making its way through the courts.  There are horror stories about gays being denied hospital visitation rights and ability to make medical decisions for their long-term partners in Florida, even though they had legal documents giving that authority.

The paradox is that South Florida is actually quite gay-friendly and has attracted a very large and very visible gay community (including—full disclosure—your humble blogger).

Both Miami-Dade and Broward have procedures for registering domestic partnerships and offer spousal benefits for county employees, in apparent defiance of state laws.

The place has come a long way since 1977 when singer Anita Bryant and her then-husband Bob Green led a successful campaign to overturn an ordinance passed by Dade County prohibiting discrimination against gays.  [Karmic note:  Bryant was supported by evangelist Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University, where Mitt Romney chose to make his recent flip-flopping stand against gay marriage. Backlash against Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign ultimately wound up sinking her career, and when Green died this past January, Bryant—still mean as ever at 72—had nothing nice to say about him.]

The conventional wisdom is that gay life in South Florida has migrated from Miami (or more specifically, South Beach) to Fort Lauderdale.

Like most such memes, this one contains a grain of truth, but as usual the reality is a lot more complicated than the typical Broward vs. Miami-Dade thing.

Broward County is indeed the epicenter of gay life in the area. For gays, Fort Lauderdale’s image is a bit like an endless Atlantis cruise, but with a somewhat, uh, “more mature” age demographic.  That’s where most of the bars are found—everything from sex clubs to male strip clubs to leather bars to geriatric karaoke.  If you’re looking for a clothing-optional all-male resort, Fort Lauderdale offers lots of choices, including monthly naked “tea dances.”  The city of Wilton Manors (or as the cruel ageist joke goes, “Wilting Manors”) vies with Palm Springs and P-town as the queerest place in the country.

People will tell you there are no gays left in Miami except twinks in South Beach, but don’t believe it.  Gay life in Miami is a little different—it seems less public and more interwoven into the rest of the city.  There’s no gay ghetto like Wilton Manors—although Belle Meade on the upper east side might come close.  If you have a male realtor, chances are pretty good that he’s gay.  There are gay men in every part of the city from North Beach to Hialeah from Coral Gables to Miami Shores.  There are cubanitos and papis, some of whom might not admit they’re gay, but like a little…well, you know.  There are gay bowling and softball leagues.   And there is the north end of Haulover Beach, which attracts gay men from all over the area (and the country) to enjoy the surf and scenery.

Miami Beach plays host for huge gay circuit party events like the Winter Party, the Sizzle Miami party over Memorial Day weekend, and the White Party in November, if that’s your cup of tea.  Miami Beach has a splashy gay pride weekend in April, in which local politicians and media personalities are eager to be seen.  There are also big pride weekends in Fort Lauderdale in March and in Wilton Manors in June.

So gay culture—in all of its varieties, from homebodies to party boiz—is definitely thriving in South Florida.  If you can deal with the political hypocrisy and homophobic malevolence out of the state capital, then it’s a pretty good place to be gay.

From → Daily Life, Politics

One Comment
  1. Tink permalink

    Great post, hit the nail on the head!

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