Wilton Drive is the epicenter of gay life in Wilton Manors, or WilMa, as it is affectionately known. With gay bars, restaurants and shops lining each side.
One such gay-owned business is Gallery XO, located at 2376 Wilton Drive, operated by Tommy LaFashia and his partner Maciel Cantelmo in the Belle Isle complex. They live upstairs above their gallery. It is easy to locate the Cantelmo-LaFashia home, residence-cum-gallery, as they have pride flags celebrating their life and their community displayed on the second floor balcony.
Therefore, what place could be better to display the bright, rainbow pride flags, symbol of the LGBT community? Oddly enough, not on the main drag of a gay village, above a gay owned business, from the balcony of a gay home.
“We were notified that we are not allowed to have the pride flags. We wanted more info, as to why. The homeowner’s association that said we can have American flags, but not rainbow flags,” said LaFashia. “So, they want us to take them down.”
This is very odd. According to Wikipeda, “Wilton Manors has approximately 1270% more gay men per capita than the national average.”
LaFashia, a native of Pennsylvania, and Cantelmo, from Brazil, had a similar experience as this happened to the couple before. In another “gay village.”
“This happened in Rehoboth, DE at a seasonal rental we took one summer. Within 2 weeks we had a letter from the homeowner’s association saying we couldn’t have rainbow flags. The homeowner’s association in Rehoboth tolerated American, holiday, and special event flags, but not the pride flag. This is just ridiculous,” Cantelmo and LaFashia said. “The president of the Belle Isle homeowner’s association is an openly gay man himself.”
According to the Belle Isle homeowner’s association, the only flags permitted are American flags.
“They also said we can’t have signs on windows facing the drive,” said LaFashia ironically. There are about ten storefront units on the ground floor of Belle Isle, and they all have signs promoting their business. In some cases the name of the business is painted on the actual window. Scoop, a closed business next door to Gallery XO, still has signs for the defunct business in the windows, and gay pride flags in the balcony above.
Gallery XO’s owners say that their landlady, the owner of the unit, is incredibly supportive. She told them that she has no problem with the flags. However, their issue does not lie with her, it lies with the homeowner’s association. As they are leasing the property they cannot voice their dismay directly to the president of the homeowner’s association.
Initially they put the flags up for the pride event, in June. Yet the couple elected to keep them up after they got so many compliments from friends, passersby and clients alike. The flags seem to have brought them some luck, especially as many businesses on the Drive are struggling due to the lackluster economy.
“I keep telling everybody if this is a bad economy I can’t tell,” LaFashia told SFGN. “We have been off the hook busy and people are spending money, not just looking! It’s been great. And as we gear up for season we bought 40 more frames to put limited edition work in.”
Maciel was – as usual – busy working on a canvas in the gallery space. He added - and the irony should not be missed friends of Dorothy, “Two words, about the flags, unconstitutional and archaic, we’re not in Kansas.”
The couple does not want to cause trouble for the owner of the unit, but does wish to keep up their pride flags. Alternately, they might consider put up a Brazilian and an Italian flag, the heritages of Cantelmo and LaFashia respectively.