If there was one standout moment for Miami-based filmmaker, writer and Gay8 festival co-organizer Joe Cardona, it was "looking into a sea of people as far as the eye could see. It was a beautiful snapshot of Miami. People of all races, ages, ethnicities and orientations. It punctuated the event."

On Jan. 17 Gay8 (or GayOcho!) was touted as the first LGBT art, music and food street festival in Little Havana's SW 8th Street (Calle Ocho), but it became much more than that, according to the other co-organizer, Damian Pardo, a LGBT community activist of 30 years.

"You have all these groups here, and they really don't mix. They are all in their own spaces. It was something that was disturbing to me and Joe," Pardo said, noting Gay8 broke down barriers to bring together 17,000 people from all walks of life in Little Havana.

Cardona added that while Miami is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities, it's also one of the most "segregated" cities. Cardona, who is heterosexual, said the LGBT community has the blueprint down for inclusion.

"I think all communities have something to learn from the LGBT community," Cardona said. "And, a lot of people haven't ventured into Little Havana in years. It gave people a chance to go into this beautiful part of the city, and all under the guise of the LGBT community."

Pardo, who is Hispanic (as is Cardona), said two other important reasons for choosing Little Havana as the place to hold the festival were its historic appeal and to change perception of Hispanic and Latinos.

"We thought Hispanics get a bad rap for homophobia, and we wanted to show how open Hispanics and Latinos are," Pardo said.

The event's main sponsors were Barcardi, which provided all the bars, and SAVE, South Florida and Miami's leading LGBT advocacy and equal rights organization. SAVE supplied the volunteers for the festival, which numbered in the hundreds, Pardo said.

"Without those organizations, we couldn't have done it," Pardo said, adding he was grateful for additional donor support from Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley, Jackson Health System and Cigna Health Insurance.

It's estimated that $100,000 was received in donations from attendees. Donated funds flow through the festival's fiscal agent, the Miami Foundation. "We did this because we wanted to make sure people felt comfortable donating," Pardo said.

The funds will be used to make the festival better for next year, which both Pardo and Cardona said is going to happen after the success of this year's festival.
"We want to have better offerings, and perfect our little festival," Cardona said. "Maybe one day it grows into a bigger festival."

Pardo added that the festival offers an alternative to other gay-themed events.

"We think there is a thirst for this type of participation," He said. "I think people were there to spend time with each other, listen to cool music, and eat some good food."

Pardo added, "Sometimes, I think people go to entertainment venues to escape, and that's where you see more of the drugs and that type of participation."

Both Pardo and Cardona are happy with the results. "Thank God it was very well received by the community, and we were humbled by the spirit during the festival," Pardo said.

The festival was preceded by "The Pa'Lante Awards" on the evening of Friday Jan. 15 honoring: civil rights community leader H.T. Smith; lesbian activist Julia Dawson; South Beach creator and visionary Louis Canales; and champion of LGBT rights and one of the founders of SAVE, Richard Gonzales.

For more information, visit Gay8Festival.com.