No masks or vaccinations, no pride. That’s the message delivered by the Miami Beach Pride committee, weeks before its first COVID-era festival and parade – when tens of thousands of LGBT people could show up to celebrate along Ocean Drive.

“We need to remind them, we need to encourage them,” Pride committee chair Bruce Horwich said. “All of our staff and volunteers will be vaccinated, or they will be masked completely for anything they do inside or outside.” 

This year’s festival, from Sept. 10 through 19, is the first held in person since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Miami Beach Pride usually is held in April. The first festival in 2009 attracted more than 15,000 spectators. An estimated 140,000 attended the most recent in-person festival in 2019.  

“It's a lot of people,” Horwich said. “Of course, they're hopefully going to be very spread out. But yes, it starts with people at the parade lined up down the street. We're well aware of that. We're encouraging, encouraging, encouraging mask-wearing as much as we possibly can. But there will be some people who refuse to wear a mask. I’m not sure how many of those people will be the kind of people that come to our Pride, but I guess we'll find out.” 

Horwich said parade participants will set the tone for spectators on the sidelines. “Most people who are marching will be wearing masks. I would assume that some people on the floats, if they're separated from each other, will probably not be wearing masks,” he said. “But the majority of the people will be wearing masks because we’ll be encouraging that.” 

Signs will be posted throughout the festival reminding attendees about the mask policy. Vaccination stations will also be available for people who have not yet had their shots. “Not that it will help them for the event, but at least we're, again, encouraging people to get vaccinated if they’re not,” Horwich said. 

The festival will have 30 sanitizing stations, Pride Executive Director Rich Walczak said. “We've hired more staff and volunteers to make sure that the tables and bathrooms are cleaned on a regular process.” 

The festival will also be providing more than 70,000 masks for people who need them, Walczak said. 

Other safety changes from previous years include limiting the number of people who can go backstage at events and there will be no performing artist meet-and-greets. 

Vendor tents also will be different. Instead of large crowded tents with up to 20 vendors inside, this year vendors will each have individual 10-by-10-foot spaces. 

The Pride committee is also requesting attendees voluntarily pre-register before showing up at the parade or street festivals. 

“Registering to attend our event enables us to more effectively communicate any changes in local, state and federal COVID-19 safety guidelines and allows us to increase the accuracy of our contact tracing program,” according to the website. “By registering for Pride you are protecting yourself and the health of others.” 

The annual 10-day festival is marketed to both locals and tourists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised high-risk travelers to be extra cautious. Those at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 include smokers, people with HIV infection, compromised immune systems and substance abuse disorders. 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava recently told residents, “It's important that we all get back to the basic COVID precautions we know work.” 

  • Get vaccinated as soon as possible 
  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings. We also strongly encourage you to wear a mask in all public settings including outdoors – especially when in large crowds and around people you don’t know to be vaccinated 
  • Practice social distancing in public and socialize outdoors wherever possible 
  • Wash your hands frequently 
  • Stay home if you’re sick, and if you have been exposed or experience COVID symptoms – even if you’re vaccinated – get tested. 

Miami Beach Pride’s biggest events – its Saturday and Sunday festivals at Lummus Park on Sept. 18 and 19, and the noon parade Sunday, Sept. 19, along Ocean Drive – are held outdoors where COVID risks are reduced. 

A few other Pride week events, including pool parties and some nighttime soirées, will also be held outdoors. 

The Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce will hold a spotlight mixer from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Mondrian South Beach under strict COVID protocols. 

“At this event, in order to increase your safety and comfort, we will be putting some protocols in place around contact tracing [your online RSVP and capture data with your business card] and risk mitigation such as temperature check, disposable masks, hand sanitizers, and indicators of your comfort level of your proximity to others,” according to the Chamber website. “We also very much encourage you to attend this event only after you have been vaccinated.  We know the best way we can stop the spread of COVID is to vaccinate ourselves before we interact with other community members in public.”   

Several large-scale events, however, are scheduled indoors, including three at the windowless old Mansion site, 1235 Washington Ave. 

URGE Pride with Paulo and Joe Gauthreaux at 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18 – a private sanctioned event that benefits Miami Beach Pride – will require attendees to be vaccinated against COVID.  

“For the safety of our guests and staff, everyone attending URGE events will be required to show proof of vaccination,” according to the event’s ticket sales web page. “If you aren't already vaccinated, we URGE you to get vaccinated today and help stop the spread of COVID-19.” 

The Pride committee’s Legends Ball at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, and the VIP Gala at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, both also at 1235 Washington Ave., will not require vaccinations. 

“We felt by law that we didn't have the right to mandate [vaccinations],” Horwich said. “That's according to what our legal has come up with, based on what the governor has said. But we're strongly encouraging everybody to be vaccinated – or if they're not vaccinated, they should reconsider coming to the event.”   

Everyone attending an indoor event must be masked, he said. 

“That part will be accomplished. The only ones who will not be wearing masks is when somebody’s performing or doing something like that.” 

Planning for this year’s Pride festival began well before Florida’s current Delta-variant surge, which led SAVE LGBTQ to switch its Sept. 23 Champions of Equality gala from in-person to virtual.  

So far, the National LGBTQ Task Force is planning its annual in-person gala on Oct. 23 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. And Pride Fort Lauderdale is planning a two-day beach festival Nov. 20 and 21. 

This week, however, Key West organizers canceled the island’s annual October Fantasy Fest parade, keeping small events on the calendar. 

Miami Beach Pride organizers hope not to cancel any of its fast-approaching festival events. 

“It is not an option that is off the table, but at the moment we are planning to move forward,” Walczak said. 

Assuming all goes as planned, will thousands of LGBT people be able to gather and successfully social distance? 

“Everybody's going to be thinking about it,” Horwich said. “I don't think you'll see a lot of handshaking but you might see a few hugs, but I think people, even when they do the hugs, will be a little smarter about it.”

Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.