I missed South Florida’s first Pride March in 1972. Sponsored by Miami’s chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance, it consisted of a few hardy souls who marched up and down 21st Street Beach (then Miami’s “gay beach”). The purpose of the March was to protest Miami Beach’s archaic laws that restricted gay bars and banned cross-dressing. By holding the March, Miami GAA did more than accomplish its purpose - the offensive laws were repealed - it also made history.
Fast-forward to 1977. The Dade County Coalition for Human Rights, trying to recover from the electoral repeal of Dade County’s “gay rights” ordinance, decided to hold a Pride March in order to show the world that we were not going back into our closets. Several hundred people, myself included, marched down Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove, symbolically walking away from the June 7 debacle. As in parade and marches before and since, we carried signs and banners, sang songs and shouted slogans, and heard inspiring and amusing speeches.
After we elected a new board of directors, the DCCHR created two committees that were to outlive the Coalition and become its most lasting legacies. One of them, a newsletter committee, began publishing in September of 1977 a Weekly News Bulletin, which later grew into The Weekly News (twn) and served as South Florida’s gay community newspaper until 2006. The other committee, chaired by Metropolitan Community Church Rev. Joseph Gilbert (now deceased) was charged to come up with an event to commemorate Pride 1978. Among the members of that Committee were Gilbert’s partner, Michael Anthony, the late Tom Bradshaw, the late Nikki “Katz” Katzman, Mark Silber, and me.
Under Rev. Gilbert and his 1979 successor, the late Staci Aker, the Coalition’s Pride Committee held protests on Biscayne Boulevard by Miami’s Bayfront Park. Though the 1978 March was upstaged by a motorcade of jubilant Argentineans (Argentina had won the Soccer World Cup that year) and the 1979 March was dampened by rain, we survived Diego Maradona and the increment weather and produced two successful Pride events.
Though the early Pride parades were by and in Dade County, some of the best participation came from members of the Broward County Coalition for Human Rights. In 1979, to accommodate closeted members, the BCCHR created a “Drag-a-pillar,” a Chinese dragon that allowed timid folk to walk under it and not be seen. The Broward Coalition also coaxed the late John Lomelo, then Mayor of Sunrise and the powerful Chair of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee, to ride the parade in an open car.
In 1980, under the late Marty Rubin, the Pride Committee became an independent organization separate from the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights, a move that was also taken by twn. Under Rubin and his 1981 successor, Ira Estis, the Pride Committee continued to hold Pride Parades. It was the 1982 Chair, the late Gregg Adams, who rocked Pride’s boat and caused some controversy when he convinced us to forego the Pride Parade in favor of a Pride Festival. The 1982 Festival, held at the Hollywood Sportatorium (also defunct), brought together hundreds of people who would not be caught dead at an open parade or march. It was also at the 1982 Festival that our community first took notice of a new epidemic that was killing gay men across the country. In a sense, South Florida AIDS activism began at the 1982 Pride Festival.
I remained a member of Pride South Florida through the 80’s, only stepping down in 1989 when I was first elected President of Congregation Etz Chaim. But I still retain warm memories of my years with Pride, of the people who Chaired the Committee - Gilbert, Aker, Rubin, Estis, Adams, Richard Sedlak, Eric Lawrence, Bob Bernacki and the late Mark Canterbury - and long-time members like Ms. Vicky Keller (the Awards Pride South Florida gave me in 1994 and 2007 were nice, too). Though the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights is now history, its legacy - Pride South Florida - still serves our community well.