The pandemic’s sting in 2020 was devastating for those who produce a wide array of gay Pride events.
It was also more than disappointing for those who excitedly attend each year.
COVID-19 has caused practically all Pride events to be postponed — but particularly large gatherings — and it has also pushed organizers to rethink operations for next year and beyond.
Pride Fort Lauderdale was set to mark a significant milestone in April — the very month the state instituted lockdown measures.
The inaugural Pride of the Americas would have been a weeklong festival from April 21-26, featuring a fashion show, concerts, parties, conferences, a beach festival and a parade down A1A.
It was an ambitious collaboration between Pride Fort Lauderdale and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. It would have replaced the traditional Pride Fort Lauderdale for the year.
The momentum was in place for a blockbuster event.
Miik Martorell, the president of Pride Fort Lauderdale, had just come off a successful 2019 event (Feb. 21-24) which brought more than 120,000 visitors to the city and a first-ever Pride parade along Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The focus had then turned to April 2020 and Pride of the Americas, which is designed to rotate to a different international destination every two years.
Pride of the Americas was postponed in March, just as organizers were anticipating as many as 350,000 visitors to the area. The hope was then to have it in the fall. Plans are to now host it Nov. 20-21, 2021.
New leader, familiar face
While Pride month is officially celebrated each June — chosen because of the significance of the Stonewall riots in New York City that began on June 28, 1969 — it’s no longer confined to those 30 days as there has been a general growing acceptance and a wider audience for such events.
It’s a trend that Pride Fort Lauderdale now wants to use to its advantage because of the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The organization named a new executive director in October — Kevin J. Clevenger — and unveiled new ways to keep supporters engaged throughout the year.
Clevenger is well-known as the tireless events and fundraising coordinator for the nonprofit Poverello Center, a position he held for many years. He was the heft behind many events, including a reboot of stalwart fundraisers like “Bowling to Fight Hunger.”
“All those years at Poverello prepared me for this,” Clevenger said.
Clevenger was also the development director for The Smart Ride, a popular bike ride that benefits HIV/AIDS organizations.
He’s a social media guru, too — growing online audiences and leading website redesign.
Clevenger spent 13 years doing promotional tours — as a tour manager and truck driver — at events, fairs and festivals.
Indeed, his experience coalesces nicely with the goals of Pride Fort Lauderdale — where he has been a volunteer since 2016, most recently serving as the vendor marketplace director.
“Kevin is dedicated to the community, volunteering at numerous organizations and helping to feed the community for the past several months throughout COVID,” the organization said in an Oct. 19 announcement.
The organizations under Clevenger’s umbrella are Pride Fort Lauderdale, Pride of the Americas 2021, Trans Pride Fort Lauderdale and Caribbean PrideFest.
(Pride Fort Lauderdale is the name of the event that is produced by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Pride organization.)
‘Pride 365,’ scholarships
Clevenger and other Pride leaders recently participated in a weekend of strategic planning to talk about ways to move forward while it’s still not known what the future of large live events will be.
The organization has instituted “Pride 365,” which gives Pride Fort Lauderdale a year-round event and fundraising schedule to work from.
“Normally Pride is just one or two weeks of events,” Clevenger, who is a native Floridian, said. “Pride 365 will include mixers, meetups, BBQs, dining out events, food – in the same vein as the South Beach Wine and Food Fest — and a fashion show. We’re already working on planning these events — new and unique. COVID-19 is not going to go away anytime soon. It will diminish, but not go away completely even when the vaccine is available.”
Clevenger said Pride Fort Lauderdale normally donates back thousands of dollars to nonprofits each year. He wants to keep giving by launching a new scholarship program.
“My vision is to provide educational scholarships for traditional and nontraditional LGBTQ students, including allies,” he said. “Strong fundraising for education, with an emphasis on the medical professions.”
Clevenger said he hears people in their 30s and 40s say there aren’t any readily available scholarships that allow them to go back to school. The scholarships will be targeted to that demographic as well as younger students.
He added that Pride Fort Lauderdale would also do outreach to transgender and Black individuals who drop out of high school to “give them a safe space to earn a GED.”
In addition, Clevenger expects there to soon be a reworked Pride Fort Lauderdale website with all the new information. In the meantime, he said, the organization’s Facebook page is active and up-to-date.