LGBTQ TRAVEL: En­tic­ing events for all

Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY LOANN HALDEN

Many of Florida’s des­ti­na­tions have in­creased their ap­peal to LGBTQ trav­el­ers by cre­at­ing an­nual events that show­case their beaches, cul­ture, nightlife and wel­com­ing at­ti­tude. The Sun­shine State has its share of Pride cel­e­bra­tions, but the fol­low­ing ros­ter of LGBTQ fes­tiv­i­ties will add even more rain­bows to your visit, whether you’re a sun wor­ship­per, cul­ture vul­ture or danc­ing queen.

KEY WEST

Artsy Key West, where “One Hu­man Fam­ily” is an is­land motto and the cross­walk at Du­val and Petro­nia streets is rain­bow-striped, has a long his­tory of em­brac­ing the LGBTQ com­mu­nity. Gay play­wright Ten­nessee Wil­liams, a fre­quent visitor from the 1940s un­til his death, worked on A Street­car Named De­sire while liv­ing in Old Town’s La Con­cha Hotel. A free ex­hi­bi­tion on Tru­man Av­enue, not far from the Key West Busi­ness Guild's new Du­val Street LGBTQ visitor cen­ter, cel­e­brates his work.

The Guild also pro­duces a ros­ter of an­nual events to en­tice global LGBTQ trav­el­ers to the end of the Over­seas High­way, most no­tably Trop­i­cal Heat in Au­gust, a steamy se­ries of cloth­ing-op­tional gather- ings for gay men, and the long-run­ning Women­fest in Septem­ber, which com­bines club events and pool par­ties with per­for­mances and sight­see­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on land and sea. Dur­ing Oc­to­ber’s Fan­tasy Fest, the cos­tume extravaganza that over­takes the is­land, the Guild breaks out the se­quins and feathers for a fundrais­ing Head­dress Ball.

MI­AMI

Mi­ami was the first ma­jor US city to open an LGBTQ wel­come cen­ter. Lo­cated in the heart of South Beach, the LGBTQ Visitor Cen­ter is a one-stop shop for in­for­ma­tion on ev­ery­thing from the 12th Street gay beach to the in­cred­i­bly di­verse events that call this art deco-laden is­land home.

The six-day Win­ter Party Fes­ti­val un­folds in early March with an em­pha­sis on DJ-driven dance par­ties and well-toned (mostly male) bod­ies, rais­ing funds for the Na­tional LGBTQ Task Force and lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions. Aqua Girl in May, the world’s largest char­ity event for gay women, mixes four days of late-night club events, sig­na­ture pool par­ties and laid-back re­cep­tions to ben­e­fit the Aqua Foun­da­tion for Women.

Nightlife-ori­ented Siz­zle Mi­ami over Me­mo­rial Day Week­end was cre­ated to unite gay men of color. White Party Week, ben­e­fit­ing the HIV/AIDS ser­vices of Care Re­source, adds a non-stop lineup of club, beach and pool­side dance par­ties to the US Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. Like Win­ter Party, the at­ten­dees are pre­dom­i­nantly male and mus­cu­lar, but there is al­ways at least one party for les­bians.

The crit­i­cally ac­claimed and ev­er­ex­pand­ing MiFo LGBTQ Film Fes­ti­val has re­branded as the OUT­SHINE Film Fes­ti­val, span­ning county lines to present a smor­gas­bord of cinema in Mi­ami in April and Fort Laud­erdale in Oc­to­ber. They’ve even added a film fest at sea!

Other pop­u­lar events in­clude the Gay8 Fes­ti­val in Lit­tle Ha­vana (Jan­uary), the Mi­ami Beach Gay Pa­rade (April) and the Cel­e­brate Or­gullo Fes­ti­val (Oc­to­ber).

FORT LAUD­ERDALE

A long­time pi­o­neer in LGBTQ outreach, Fort Laud­erdale at­tracts an es­ti­mated 1.5 mil­lion LGBTQ vis­i­tors an­nu­ally. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est US Cen­sus data, it also has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of same-sex cou­ple house­holds in the United States (among cities with pop­u­la­tions over 65,000). That trans­lates into hun­dreds of LGBTQ-owned busi­nesses, largely con­cen­trated in Wil­ton Manors; a gay beach at Se­bas­tian Street; the world’s first AIDS mu­seum; and the Stonewall Na­tional Mu­seum & Ar­chives on East Sun­rise Blvd. in Fort Laud­erdale, which has a gallery de­voted to LGBTQ his­tory. The Stonewall Na­tional Mu­seum’s Wil­ton Manors Gallery show­cases ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions in the heart of the LGBTQ nightlife district.

The lively gay scene com­bined with the sub­trop­i­cal weather makes Fort Laud­erdale a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for LGBTQ sport­ing events, in­clud­ing the Hur­ri­cane Show­down, a re­gional tour­na­ment on the North Amer­i­can Gay Soft­ball cir­cuit. It’s also a top draw for LGBTQ con­ven­tions, in­clud­ing the South­ern Com­fort Con­fer­ence, one of the world’s largest trans­gen­der gath­er­ings. The an­nual con­ven­tion in­cor­po­rates lo­cal tours into its ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram­ming.

OR­LANDO

In 1991, a group of gay friends de­cided to don red T-shirts and meet at Walt Dis­ney World’s Magic King­dom on the first Satur­day in June. That ca­sual plan, com­bined with some Dis­ney pixie dust, com­busted into a glob­ally beloved LGBTQ event. Now, more than 100,000 peo­ple, be­decked in crim­son, rain­bows and other LGBTQ-cen­tric at­tire, de­scend upon Or­lando’s theme parks for non-stop fes­tiv­i­ties around the first week­end of June. Much like gay Pride events, Gay Days hits in­clu­sive notes for fam­i­lies, cou­ples and sin­gles of all gen­ders and ages. One Magical Week­end, which runs con­cur­rently, fea­tures non-stop pool par­ties and evening events cater­ing to gay men, while Girls in Won­der­land is the les­bian equiv­a­lent.

TAMPA/ST. PETERS­BURG

These two cities on ei­ther side of Tampa Bay of­fer com­ple­men­tary LGBTQ ex­pe­ri­ences.

Tampa has the ur­ban sen­si­bil­ity cour­tesy of the GaYBOR District in Ybor City with its LGBTQ nightlife while St. Peters­burg of­fers a more re­laxed coastal vibe, com­plete with a gay sun­bathing area at the south­ern tip of Trea­sure Is­land, lo­cally known as Sun­set Beach.

The nine-day Tampa In­ter­na­tional Gay & Les­bian Film Fes­ti­val, Florida’s old­est LGBTQ film fest, un­folds on both sides of the bay in Oc­to­ber, and presents ad­di­tional screen­ings through­out the Tampa/St. Peters­burg area year-round.

St. Pete Pride gets a spe­cial men­tion as the largest Pride event in Florida, draw­ing more than 200,000 par­tic­i­pants over the course of a June week­end for its fes­ti­val in the Grand Cen­tral District and night­time pa­rade along the water­front.

PEN­SACOLA

Florida’s more con­ser­va­tive Pan­han­dle doesn’t of­ten reg­is­ter on the gay­dar, but that changes over Me­mo­rial Day Week­end when the pow­der-white sands host the largest LGBTQ event in North­west Florida. The ma­jor­ity of rev­el­ers travel from sur­round­ing south­ern states to bask in the sun and the friendly, ac­cept­ing at­mos­phere. At night, gay men grav­i­tate to the par­ties at Park East while the les­bians hit the Sex­a­cola Beach events and Pen­sacola Un­leashed mu­sic fes­ti­val.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: Walk­ing along the beach in the

St. Pete/Clear­wa­ter area. BELOW: The most color­ful pa­rade in Or­lando.

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