There are few things more rewarding in life than watching a plant blossom.
Just two years ago, Pride Fort Lauderdale was as dead as a doornail. Before I salute the individual who brought it back to life, let me share with you some history. It’s all available online at SFGN.com, but here is the generic and abridged version.
At the time, Fort Lauderdale’s Pride South Florida group was led by someone who was self-immolating, covering up inner turmoil and angry feuds. His dictatorial methods alienated the membership, and its directors diminished to a hollow few.
SFGN was given leads, and wrote about the rift and wrongs at PSF. We exposed the challenges and calamities they were facing, discovering that on top of owing back taxes, Pride Fort Lauderdale had also lost its tax-exempt status with the IRS.
Unfortunately, its leadership was not open about anything. We relied on trustworthy sources who leaked the truth to a free press. Worse, our local gay city commissioner joined in the cover up, claiming this was an ‘internal matter’ for the pride group. Nonsense.
It sure was not ‘internal’ when it was discovered that the former Pride South Florida director had embezzled $48,000 from the group. He was in jail for theft. It sure was not internal when the IRS was threatening to lien the bank account of your public pride group. Pride South Florida was imploding from within.
A small nucleus of devoted civic leaders came to me and asked if I could do more than criticize. They asked if I could contribute. I agreed to see if I could help recover and retain the organization’s legal status. Not quite sure how I wound up becoming chair, but the legal part I could handle.
My law office appealed the IRS ruling and requested an abatement of Pride’s back taxes. After some anxious months, we won on both counts.
After a series of delays, the small coalition of individuals who remained in the group rebranded the organization.
The newly reorganized group held on and organized a modest family festival in October of 2015 to commemorate gay marriage in Holiday Park. We even had a petting zoo and pony rides, not exactly LGBT centric festivities.
Pride Fort Lauderdale had risen from the ashes to respectability, but we did not exactly light any fires. Still, we paid all our bills. Nevertheless, the time was ripe for an infusion of new blood. After a contentious meeting, reported about here at SFGN, our board elected to dissolve and start anew in 2016. I wrote two articles in SFGN encouraging new voices and leaders to come forward and work towards a beachside pride.
One person who was always there however, devoted to making Pride work again, was Miik Martorell, even planning the entertainment while reaching into his own pocket. As I stepped aside, he stepped up. Did he ever. You saw the results last weekend. The festival was a tribute to his perseverance and persistence, devotion and dedication.
Before its reorganization, Pride Fort Lauderdale had one goal, and that was to partner with Sunny.org, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, in order host a pride on the beach. This effort would require a year of planning, organization, and relationship building. This effort would be Herculean, and Miik rose to the occasion.
Miik Martorell had to induce city staffers and commissioners to allow the public beach to be shut down for a private event. He had to undertake meetings with police, zoning officers, traffic regulators, and even state officials who own State Road A1A. It was a time-consuming task just internally.
At the same time, Miik had to find time from his own employment as a DJ and full time printer to recruit members to help run a festival. He also wanted to do it better than he had ever seen it done before. He was fierce and passionate about it.
On his own dime, Miik travelled across this country to a score of pride events to see what other cities were doing. He met leaders from a host of Interpride organizations, and partnered with them, inviting them here to be part of last week’s festival on the beach. You just don’t know how many volunteers you need to pull an event like this off.
Everyone who came to the event this past weekend recognized instantly it was a hit. In fact, it was a victim of its own success. The technical and internal problems everyone encountered is because the sum became greater than all its parts. No one is psychic, but neither party planners nor the city administrators planned for the crowds that came and conquered the beach. For a first-time event, the numbers were staggering.
Yes, of course I know about all the operational problems the group encountered on the day of the festival. A few years ago, I lived them myself. But please, cut them some slack, a lot in fact. They were victims of their own success. They were blown away, overwhelmed, if you will, by your participation and response to their campaign. More people showed up than anyone ever imagined.
Yes, bar stations ran out of liquor. Parking was nowhere to be found. Traffic on the beach was unbearable. The water taxi took forever. Uber rides took 45 minutes. The smell from portable potties became toxic. The dance stage was not big enough. The lines were too long at the food booths, and some of those vendors were ripping off customers left and right. Deal with it. They will do better next year.
On a more significant issue, one of the ways Pride Fort Lauderdale won back our tax exemption two years ago was our ability to show the IRS that Pride Fort Lauderdale annually underwrote charitable causes. Each year, after the festival ends, the board of directors got together and gave out grants to other community service organizations to fund their needs. Unfortunately, the last two festivals did not provide the finances and income to do that. Last weekend altered that algorithm.
A common misconception is that at these festivals the bars are making a lot of money. Not so. They are donating their time, staff, and sometimes alcohol. The alcohol sales are donations to Pride Fort Lauderdale. The bartenders get to keep the tips only. The event needs an engineer but it requires a community.
An annual donation alone does not get you a 501 c 3 exemption. There are other barometers the IRS measures. However, with the financial success last weekend it will be so much easier to meet those standards. They will be met because Miik Martorell’s vision became the community’s reality. His focus and fortitude would not be denied, and the festival he dreamed of became the start of a new annual LGBTQ celebration in greater Fort Lauderdale.
Look, I am not going to tell you that all our civil rights will be won by people running around the beach in skimpy bathing suits or dancing to DJ’s spinning music. But greater Fort Lauderdale deserves the annual acclamation for being a same-sex centric community. It does not need to be Miami Beach’s second sister.
Watch the series about the birth of the gay civil rights movement now airing on network television, ‘When We Rise.’ We didn’t always have a beach to go to, or a place we could call home. Beach parties may be self-indulgent, but LGBT America has endured much over many years. There is another wrong with self-affirmation and saluting who we are.
Thanks to Miik Martorell, Pride Fort Lauderdale now has a fresh look, along with a singular identity of its own. Congratulations to him, his volunteers, and the team he assembled. Celebrate your achievement and work towards a better tomorrow.