Thomas Jefferson, who served as US Minister to France from 1785 to 1789, was a passionate lover of all things French. (His political enemy, Alexander Hamilton, loved the British.) According to a famous saying attributed to Jefferson, “every man has two countries - his own and France.” Though Jefferson never said this, in his autobiography he admitted that France was his “second choice” for a country to live in after his own.
As the home of the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement, France attracted intellectual and artistic pilgrims from all over Europe, Asia and the Americas. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries American students, tourists and expatriates, including many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans* people, flocked to France for its history, its art, its literature and the freedoms that were often denied us back home.
As a gay man who has lived in South Florida for most of his life, there have been several places that I called my home. One place that I never lived in, but nevertheless consider to be my second home, is Wilton Manors. And I am not the only one. To paraphrase Jefferson’s apocryphal quote, “every LGBT person in South Florida has two homes - their own and Wilton Manors.”
I visit the Island City several times a week, for business and for pleasure. Many of my friends live in Wilton Manors. My favorite watering holes are all on Wilton Drive: Hunter’s, where I often gather with my pals for Sunday tea dance; the Alibi, with its award-winning hamburgers; and Rumors Bar. Some of my favorite restaurants are also on the Drive: Shawn & Nick’s Courtyard Cafe; Rosie’s Bar & Grill; and EAT, among others.
I often attend events at the Pride Center on Equality Park, most notably the Center’s weekly “Coffee and Conversation;” the Dolphin Democrats’ monthly meetings; and Congregation Etz Chaim’s Friday night services. I am even on a first-name basis with Mayor Gary Resnick and the City Commissioners. Though Wilton Manors’ housing is rather pricey, I often think of moving there, if only to save on gas. Someday, I might do so.
Since the gay nineties, LGBT people have moved into the Island City and made it a queer Mecca. According to Wikipedia, “the city is home to a sizable LGBT population as well as winter vacationers, who frequent its many nightclubs and gay-owned businesses along the main street, Wilton Drive; the 2010 U.S. Census reported that it is second only to Provincetown, Massachusetts in the proportion (15%) of gay couples relative to the total population. It contains a large Pride center, the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center, and a branch of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, whose main facility is in neighboring Fort Lauderdale. The Mayor, Gary Resnick, refers on his official biography to his male partner.” Wilton Manors’ web page (wiltonmanors.com) proudly proclaims its status as the “Second Gayest City in America.” Every year since 2011, South Florida Gay News (SFGN) chooses WilMa to be the “Best City to Live In” in its annual “Best of” issue. (I wrote most of the blurbs proclaiming that fact.)
SFGN is a proud part of Wilton Manors’ LGBT community, with offices on Dixie Highway just a block south of Five Points. “Wilton Manors has become the soul, hub, and the epicenter of gay life in South Florida,” SFGN publisher Norm Kent wrote in the annual, SFGN-published Guide to Wilton Manors (now revised to cover all of South Florida), that “what was once a farming community is now a growing urban village, driven and powered by many LGBT entrepreneurs… Our community has bite, kick, and a bark. We are here, and we are heard.”
Every two weeks SFGN publishes a supplement, the Wilton Manors Gazette (WMG), which includes my friend Sal Torre’s hard-hitting commentary. If you are LGBT, live in South Florida, and have not yet visited your second home, you should do as soon as you can: You will find lots of wonder here. In the Island City, the rainbow shines every day.