A coalition of five regional Pride organizations raised more than $16,000 last weekend with a virtual Pride festival broadcast over social media and attracting 74,000 views. 

The festival was pulled together in less than four weeks by Miami Beach Pride, Gay 8 festival in Miami, Pride Fort Lauderdale, Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride and Palm Beach Pride, collaborating as the South Florida Pride Collective.

It came together very quickly,said Miami Beach Pride executive director Rich Walczak, who proposed the joint effort. There were hiccups along the way, definitely a learning curve, but, ultimately, it was successful.

More than 90 singers and entertainers, drag performers and DJs were featured over two days and 26 hours, May 9 - 10. 

The line-up included Queer Eye for the Straight Guyhost and RuPauls Drag Racejudge Carson Kressley, Pose” star Dominique Jackson, German recording artist Cascada, LGBT favorites Steve Grand and Melanie C, and a number of popular South Florida artists, including cabaret singers Jennifer McClain and Nicole Henry.

Among the drag artists featured were Latrice Royale, Miss Coco Peru (performing with the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble), TP Lords and emcees Kitty Meow, Tiffany Fantasia, Velvet Lenore and Melissa St. John.

The program also reflected the cultural diversity of South Florida with a number of Latin artists, including Albita, Lucy Grau, Cachita Lopez and David Hernandez. iHeart Radio personalities Enrique Santos and GiGi Diaz were among the guest hosts for the broadcast.

“…the goals were for every organization to recruit the same talent they would use in their festival. By doing so, the virtual Pride would organically reflect our communities,explained Damian Pardo, co-founder of Gay 8 festival, one of the largest Latin LGBT events in the country.

Pardo also noted booking and scheduling the free performances from so many artists was one of the biggest hurdles for organizers.

The program, produced by Palm Beach County-based Jager Technologies, wasnt without the surprises that come with live production. Mid-afternoon on Saturday, a false fire alarm at Compass interrupted the broadcast, followed by the dispatch of a fire engine and several firefighters that sent the emcees swooning for several minutes.

The team also had to deal with glitches from the Facebook Live platform that interrupted streaming several times throughout the weekend. According to Jagers, Twitch, a gaming platform that is increasingly being utilized for virtual events, proved to be most reliable. The videos are still available for view on Facebook.com/PrideCollectives.

The festival was sponsored by Jack Daniels, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Comcast, Our Fund Foundation, Haus Lounge and the Miami Dolphins. South Florida-based Spirit Airlines provided two pairs of tickets to be raffled to donors. SFGN, Hotspots, OutClique, Edge Media Network and Channel Q were media partners.

Were very grateful to our sponsors for their support of this new and different kind of Pride festival,commented Miik Martorell, president of Pride Fort Lauderdale. We also thank the hundreds of viewers who generously donated throughout the broadcast.” 

All donations collected online or via text message are earmarked to programs and organizations that benefit local residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were collected and are being distributed by Wilton Manors-based Our Fund Foundation.

Beneficiaries range from Compass LGBT Community Center programs in Palm Beach County and Survivors Pathways, a Miami-based nonprofit serving residents with food insecurity, to individual grants for workers in the devastated hospitality and tourism industries in Miami and Wilton Manors. Pride Fort Lauderdale will use funds to assemble and distribute boxes of food staples and personal hygiene supplies on Friday, May 22.

Julie Seaver, CEO of Compass, summed up the feelings of organizers: "Our (Palm Beach Pride) theme this year was 'Unity in the Community' and, having the five Prides together, it just doesn’t get any better than that...we couldn’t have imagined what that togetherness would feel like. Now, all of us are connected in a way we couldn’t have imagined before.”

The entire festival will be rebroadcast this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, May 16-17 and donations for COVID-19 relief will continue to be collected. For more information, go to PrideCollectives.com.

In addition to serving as SFGN’s arts and entertainment editor, J.W. Arnold is executive director of Pride Fort Lauderdale.