LGBTQ TRAVEL: Enticing events for all
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.