Here are SFGN's "Best of 2015" winners in the places and groups category in Broward County
Intersection of A1A and Sebastian Street
Fort Lauderdale Beach
Like the City of Wilton Manors (see “Best City to Live”), Fort Lauderdale’s Sebastian Street Beach has been voted the best in its field each and every year since SFGN began its annual “Best of” issues (2011).
Though the section of Fort Lauderdale Beach that lies across from the intersection of A1A and Sebastian Street seems no different from other sections of the Beach, its population sets it apart from that of its neighbors. As one crosses onto Sebastian Beach from an adjacent beach, women and children practically disappear, and men’s bathing suits get noticeably shorter. (Sadly, men’s bathing attire on Sebastian have gotten longer lately.) Sometimes a clueless straight might saunter into Sebastian Beach, only to discover to his or her dismay Sebastian’s unique demographics. In addition to its central location and its eye candy appeal, Sebastian Beach is conveniently close to many of LGBT guesthouses and resorts, which only serves to draw gay and lesbian tourists from around the world. Long-term couples, groups of friends and sex tourists alike frequent Sebastian Beach for its combination of sub-tropical climate, sandy beach, warm waters – and hot men.
– Jesse Monteagudo
Best City to Live
Broward County’s “Island City” has been voted the “Best City to Live” in each and every year since SFGN began its annual “Best of” issues (2011); and 2015 proves to be no exception. “WilMa” remains South Florida’s “gay village;” an ideal place for LGBT people to live, work and play and one of the most gay-friendly retirement cities in the U.S.
It is also a popular destination for LGBT tourists from around the world. “Wilton Manors is the most LGBT-supportive city I know,” City Commissioner Justin Flippen proudly said. “We are home to the Pride Center, Stonewall Gallery, and a vibrant entertainment district. The city officially hosted marriage equality wedding ceremonies on Valentine's Day at City Hall. We consistently adopt policies and resolutions asserting our right to work, live, marry, and raise families. In so many ways, from our city government and businesses to neighbors and visitors, life in the Island City is better here and we welcome everyone to experience it. I am so privileged to serve this proud city's amazing people as their commissioner!"
Recent controversies about crime, parking, traffic problems or businesses closing down on Wilton Drive have not kept the Drive from maintaining its status as the “Main Street“ of queer South Florida. In fact, LGBT-owned or LGBT-friendly businesses have done so well here that they have spread east onto North Dixie Highway.
– Jesse Monteagudo
Best Spiritual Center - Sunshine Cathedral
1480 SW 9th Ave.
Sunshine Cathedral bills itself as a “seven day a week church that affirms the sacred value of all people.”
“Sunshine Cathedral MCC is a different kind of church where the past is the past and the future has infinite possibilities. We are a community committed to learning, to growing, to loving, to sharing. We hold a variety of beliefs, and individual beliefs are likely to change over time. We affirm that each of us is a divine child of God, intrinsically good and blessed to be a blessing to our world. There is no flaw in you,” writes Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, senior minister, on the church’s website.
Along with the spiritual, the church also offers opportunities for community service, outreach and social interaction through food collections for the poor, mental health services, performing arts entertainment, picnics, senior daycare, speaker series and more.
But, beyond the spirituality, beyond the services, beyond the social events, beyond the role Sunshine Cathedral plays in the community, the pastors and layman preach personal truth. In a sermon that touched upon National Coming Out Day, Watkins said Sunshine Cathedral asks members of the LGBT community to “live into their truth and be bold about it.”
Best Business Group – GLBX
As former Wilton Manors mayor John Fiore is fond of saying, there’s no gay way to fix a pothole.
The same may be true when it comes to making money. But there is at least one way to tap into gay customers – the Gay and Lesbian Business Exchange (GLBX).
Founded in 2009, the GLBX is a council and part of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. With 160 members, both from within and without the LGBT community, it meets every first and third Wednesday at 8 a.m. at the Chamber.
“We founded the GLBX because felt that the gay and lesbian business community was lacking representation. In the beginning it was a little bit of a challenge, but through the years we’ve gained a tremendous amount of support within the Chamber,” said Geph Scarr, chair of the GLBX.
To Non-LGBT members of GLBX, Scarr said the value of his group is clear. “We can offer them something. We all need business relationships. We’re not just an exclusively gay organization. Everyone is a potential customer or client.”
Best Social Group – Mack MultiMedia
Mack has been social networking before any of us heard of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Having won best Social & Networking Group in 2011 and 2012, Mack is tops when it comes to bringing together ‘Gay Owned- Straight Friendly’ businesses.
Founded by Donald Harvey and Dan Oropesa ten years ago, the group’s Power Lunch and Mack Mixers have brought countless business owners together and helped untold numbers of deals get done.
The Power Lunches take place once a month in a different venue each time. Same for the Mack Mixers, which take place in the evening, always in Fort Lauderdale.
While their events are always fun, the main focus is on professionalism. They provide much more than a place to exchange business cards. Attendees are encouraged to form friendships and real business bonds. That’s probably why sexual orientation doesn’t matter.
As for winning Best Social Group in 2015, Harvey and Oropesa want to thank the South Florida businesses who help make their lunches and mixers such a success.
Best Sports Team – The Felicias
Brian Zilka manages a team of sassy softball champions with a reputation that precedes them.
“We certainly stand out,” Zilka said.
By “we,” Zilka is referring to the Felicias, a pink cladded team that has taken the local South Florida leagues by storm. Sponsored by Progress Bar, the Felicias are a championship team of mostly gay softball players who travel the country raising spirits with their looks and winning games with their skills on the diamond.
“It’s a group of close knit friends who use softball to build each other up,” Zilka said. “We like to have fun, but we also really enjoy the charity side of it.”
The team participates in numerous community events ranging from Pride festivals to fundraising walks to end Alzheimer’s. Members often don tutus, heels and wigs – all in the color of pink -- in honor of one of the team’s founders, the late Bob Melilo.
“There is substance to our shenanigans,” Zilka said.
The team of 17 players recently participated in the Gay Softball World Series, placing in the top 25. They are scheduled to take the field again in Fort Lauderdale for the annual Hurricane Showdown, Nov. 27-29.
Best Sports League – South Florida Amateur Athletic Association
It’s official. Gays love pitchers and catchers.
Softball is the sport of choice by readers of the SFGN with the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association voted the best sports league.
Founded in 1994, the league has grown into 26 teams that compete during spring and fall seasons in a variety of skill levels.
“It started as a safe haven for gay people to play softball without ridicule,” said League Commissioner Abe Hasbun.
Games are played on Sundays at Mills Pond Park, 2201 Northwest 9th Avenue, in Fort Lauderdale. Skill levels range from A to D and no one is turned away from participating.
This year a new “masters” division has been implemented for people over the age of 50.
“It’s really like a family,” Hasbun said. “I’ve made friends for life through softball.”
League representatives travel the country to compete in tournaments in addition to hosting the annual Hurricane Showdown in late November.
Best Non-Profit - Pride Center
2040 North Dixie Hwy.
The Pride Center in Wilton Manors is a one-stop shop for so many community enrichment events, workshops, educational programming, and overall a safe place that celebrates, nurtures and empowers the LGBT community. For more than two decades, this organization has served Broward County where the second to the largest same-sex couple population resides in the U.S.
At its 30,000-square-foot office and six acres of property space, clients can experience a bevvy of extensive offerings at this nonprofit, including language classes, dance workshops, health expos, and panels on family planning and parenting skills for same-sex couples.
Be sure to check the Pride Center’s event calendar to find out what’s to come and how you can get involved. The center hosts roughly 60 group meetings a month, featuring support and social educational groups with a focus on women, seniors, youth, men, transgender, recovery, health, spiritually and so on.
Best HIV/AIDS Charity – Poverello Center
2056 N. Dixie Hwy.
When times are tough and people with HIV can’t make ends meet or put food on the table, Poverello is there. Founded by Father William Collins in 1988, the Poverello Center has provided life-saving food and basic essentials for low-income, Broward County residents living with HIV/AIDS ever since.
Operating one of the oldest and largest specialty food pantries in the region, Poverello serves nearly 2,600 individuals each year, providing them with food for nearly 1.5 million meals. The agency also runs a food bank and a fitness center for its more than 6000 clients, as well as a thrift store open to the public.
2015 is the second consecutive year Poverello has been voted Best HIV/AIDS Charity.
“With nearly 30 years of service to those in Broward County living with HIV/AIDS, Poverello is honored to, once again, be voted the Best HIV Charity in SFGN’s Best of 2015,” says Lj McHugh, Poverello CAO. “Thank you to everyone who voted for Poverello. We are proud to continue to receive the community’s support and recognition.”
Best Support Group – Life Program & Positive Social (Tie)
954-463-9005, ext. 302
If you are HIV positive there is a place to express yourself in a safe and confidential environment. Facilitated by the Pride Center, through the Pals Project, LIFE program brings 45 men together for 18 weeks to learn and support one another.
“Each participant has one thing in common with everyone in the room -- they are dealing with the HIV virus,” said Jeff Grisby, LIFE coordinator. “That commonality forms the base for long term friendships and sometimes relationships.”
LIFE stands for Learning Immune Function Enhancement and has become a success in Wilton Manors bringing together men who would otherwise likely never meet or interact. The program brings in professionals from the medical field as well as other health care organizations to speak about lab tests, diet, mental health and sexual choices.
Co-factors of the LIFE program encompass the body, mind and spirit.
“Each man gleans bits and pieces of information and what others have experienced to incorporate into their own lives and strengthen their immune systems,” Grisby said.
In-takes for cycle 22 of the LIFE program will take place soon, said Grisby, with a start date scheduled for the last Tuesday in January 2016.
2330 Wilton Dr.
It’s been a good year for Latinos Salud. You might call it the little organization that could.
Competing with much larger and better funded healthcare organizations, Latinos Salud was awarded a new million dollar contract from the Centers For Disease Control this summer to be used in HIV prevention.
The organization, created in 2008 to provide a safe space for Latino gay guys, hosts a weekly “Positive Social” at its Wilton Manors location. This group was voted best support group, along with Pride Center’s LIFE program, by readers of SFGN.
“As the name suggests, the group members wanted this to be more than a ‘support group,’” said Latinos Salud Executive Director Stephen Fallon. “The positive social serves those living with HIV and their allies. Each week, the group focuses on a new topic, with the facilitator sharing inspirational stories, tips for healthy living, and leading cultural exchanges. Meetings often include home cooked buffet meal with culinary recipes the world over.”
The group meets Tuesdays evenings from 7-9 p.m. at 2330 Wilton Drive. Group meetings are primarily conducted in Spanish. There is a companion group “Un+ed” offered bi-weekly on Wednesday nights at the Latinos Salud office in Miami Beach.
Best Group For Women – WIN
With almost 30 years of existence, Women In Network have solidified themselves as a South Florida staple among professionals.
“We are a philanthropic, social, and educational organization,” said Trish Stypka, WIN President.
WIN has won Best Group for Women three years in a row, and Stypka believes in the work the organization is doing. All members get discounts to WIN events and there are currently no chapter dues, so becoming a member actually saves you money. On the first Wednesday of every month, WIN hosts an event around town, with anything from art receptions to cheering on the softball team to theater showings. They also partner with organizations like Women With Pride, ARROW, and ArtsUnited.
WIN is free and open to anyone who wants to join, not just women. Looking to be part of WIN? Visit WomenInNetwork.com.
Best Place for Trans Folks – SunServe
2312 Wilton Dr.
Located in Wilton Manors, SunServe is a non profit social services agency specializing in the LGBTQ community of South Florida.
According to Ariana Lint, who was the Director of Transgender Services for SunServe until mid 2015, the agency offers mental health, case management, therapy and group discussion services to over 200 transgender people in South Florida alone.
"We are trying to help transgender people have a better quality of life," she said.
Every Wednesday SunServe offers a 'Safe "T" Transgender/Gender Non Conforming' support group from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. where anyone can drop in and talk and meet new people.
In addition, on the first and third Wednesday of every month the agency hosts a trans men support group from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. where guests who identify as trans men can visit to share concerns in a safe place.
With tons of support for the trans community as well as providing a safe haven for them to come to, SunServe is the winner of SFGN’s Best Place for Trans Folks.