Think of the Gay8 Festival on Miami's Calle Ocho as a "Pride [celebration] on steroids." That's how organizer Damian Pardo describes the event, "which is really about bringing all parts of the community together for one day of fun in Little Havana," he said.
The third annual Gay8 Festival will take place 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18 on Southwest Eighth Street between 14th and 17th avenues. The closed-off block party for LGBT Latinos is meant to draw gay and gay-friendly members of all cultures from across Miami, not just from the Latino community.
The festival launched in 2016 with 17,000 attendees. That number grew to more than 30,000 in 2017. A kickoff event for the music, food and arts fest took place Wednesday, Nov. 8 at Casa Juancho in Little Havana, attracting many movers and shakers of the LGBT community, including Tony Lima of SAVE; Community Builders Cindy Brown, Hector Zuazo and Robert Medina of Lambda Living; and Azucar and Bailo Nightclub resident drag queens Marytrini Fernandez and Teresita La Caliente.
"I helped start this festival...music, dance parties, art, all kinds of things," Pardo said. "It's really representative, it's kind of like a Pride on steroids. It's everybody Pride. It's Haitian Pride, Latino Pride, Gay Pride, etc. But the Pride comes from all of us being together. That's where the pride comes from. It's a little bit unique in that sense."
Attendees of the official kickoff enjoyed complimentary tapas, bites and drinks, while organizers sought donations from the community and sold T-shirts of the official 2018 Gay8 Festival. Artwork on the shirts was designed by Eliott Prada, a Cuban American artist and store owner of La Isla Gallery and Gifts, a Cuban memorabilia shop on Calle Ocho.
In a Facebook post where he shared images of attendees showing off and wearing the T-shirts, Prada said "I'm so proud of our community and that I can do my part! Thanks everyone! Many more LGBT art, prints, and designer T's will be available for Gay8 Feb. 18, 2018."
Pardo said people at February's festival can expect to enjoy "free films, walking tours and great food. It's a good time," he said. Pardo said the kickoff is "the day we celebrate, bringing in the sponsors and our hosts. We generate the momentum, start getting the idea, 'hey we're heading towards the festival, let's start supporting it.'"
Along the way, there will be events related to the festival. For the first year, the Miss & Mister Gay8 pageant in association with the Gay8 Festival will take place Sunday, Jan. 14 at the Jokker Nightclub. The winners to be named King and Queen will appear on the cover of “Imagen" Magazine. There will also be a Palante (Move Forward) Awards show that will serve as a fundraiser for the Gay8 Festival. The community is encouraged to purchase VIP tickets that include open bar drinks at $100 to $150 apiece to help fund costs related to organizing the street festival.
BB&T Bank representative Johnnie Mejia spoke at the kickoff, revealing the bank's support and sponsorship of the Gay8 Festival in 2018.
"We're very happy to be coming on board again for a second year in a row with Gay8," Mejia said. "BB&T considers Gay8 one of the premier festivals that builds bridges throughout our community, honors diversity and celebrates differences, which people think are a bad thing, but I think differences are a beautiful thing."
Jeremy Mason, when speaking to attendees of the kickoff, said he didn't have to sell them on this festival.
"Thirty thousand people came out last year and danced in the streets and had the time of their lives at this festival, Mason said. "The different things you can do at the festival, the movies, the literary talks, the vendors; there's so much that happens here. But the real joy of Gay8 for me is the fact that it's a rich tapestry of individual stories and people coming out as they are in their own skin and enjoying being on Calle Ocho and living their best lives together wherever they are...because it's a festival of togetherness, and that is why this is a joy. We have a new tag line for the festival: It's 'Live Your Story Here.' Because that's what we do when we come to Calle Ocho as part of Gay8."
Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, is on the committee that runs the festival. In past years, he has been in charge of the men's Macho stage. This year, DJ Alex Ferbeyre will be taking over the reins of that party, leaving Lima to help with the fundraising, programming for the parties and hosting the stages.
"I'll be up there with a mic introducing bands and stuff. Just helping with the intricacies of the festival," Lima said. "It's so exciting. I'll see you at the festival during President's Day Weekend."