OpEd: Holiday Park Pride Fort Lauderdale Festival

Photo: Dennis Jozefowicz

It’s All About Coming Together

About fifteen years ago, when I was being treated for cancer, in an abundance of caution, I made some plans for my funeral. I knew I would have to be there, so what the hell.

Anyway, for my tombstone, I came up with a simple epitaph, which reads: “All in all, I would rather be at the ballpark.”

This weekend, Pride Fort Lauderdale hosts its annual holiday festival, moved from it’s February/March date to October this year. As the group’s chair, I guess I have to be there. All in all, I would rather be at the ballpark.

This year, for the first time in about 25 years, my two favorite baseball teams, the Dodgers and the Mets, are going to be facing off against each other in the divisional playoffs.

On Friday night, I could be in Southern California living the dream. Instead, I will be here in South Florida, hoping there is no nightmare. Running a community festival is no easy task, and experience dictates there will be miscues.

Nevertheless, Pride Fort Lauderdale faced enormous challenges a year ago, and it has today righted the ship.

Last October, the group was disorganized and broke, fractured and spent. But this community has a wealth of volunteers who were dedicated to seeing its reputation restored; its honor recaptured.

This weekend, the festival will come off with live music for adults, petting zoos and pony rides for kids, along with some health and educative seminars for interested members of the community. Pride Fort Lauderdale has been empowered through major donations by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the ever-generous and often unappreciated AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

First, Pride Fort Lauderdale was enormously helped by Orlando Castellanos, who manages Holiday Park, and who lent his experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to our efforts, insuring we were on time and up to par with permits, codes, and practices. A member of our community, he is a reminder of what you can achieve when you have the city on your side, working with you.

Second, the festival itself was resuscitated and rescued when Miik Martorell, the owner of Hot Flyers, and a long time Pride volunteer, decided to put his imprimatur and reputation on the line. He was not only determined to make the festival happen. He was THE one that made it happen. His dedication and perseverance rose to the occasion, often at the expense of his own business. Hopefully, he will move in to the role of chair when I step down later this month.

My tenure as chair was singularly designed to restore credibility and lend professional accountability to the group. We fought for and won back our tax-exempt status with the IRS, but more importantly, we won back the respect of the community organizations we are responsible to. We have now partnered with local businesses to run the festival, and earned their faith.

We have gone from being $30,000 in debt to having $30,000 in the bank to run a carefully budgeted festival. Hopefully, we will come out of it in the black. Any way you cut it, we should come out of it with your respect.

This year, we honor long time supporters like SHE Magazine and the Boardwalk. We recognize past supporters to our Hall of Fame, Scott Holland of HotSpots and Lori Whittaker, who just sold Sidelines.

A pride group in any city is a partnership of volunteers willing to give up themselves to support others. It’s not about what we can do to promote your business. It’s about what we can do together to promote our community.

Earlier this year, a long time Pride ally, Miss Vicki turned 90, and we learned she was about to become homeless. Jodi Fisher, a lawyer altruistically volunteered to become her guardian, and our community generously donated over $10,000 to underwrite costs necessary to keep her going. Thank you for making a difference.

While we hold an annual festival, Pride Fort Lauderdale has been running events all year. Our Pride Honors Series has recognized the achievements of a number of distinguished persons, including later this month, Nikki Grossman of the CVB and Michael Kahane of AHF. Earlier this year, we honored jurists Robert Lee and Lisa Porter, along with Fort Lauderdale’s gay city commissioner, Dean Trantalis.

Simple events like this only come about because the Pride Center of Equality Park lent us their facilities; Bobby Keyser of Panache Catering supported us with his event planning, and Dignity Memorial, funeral providers, underwrote the catering costs.

Look, I am not telling you to go die and become their client, but I am saying they gave us life when we needed it. You see, none of these things just happen. They come about because people care. They deserve recognition and we owe them thanks.

Pride Fort Lauderdale is not a big group. It’s a small chestnut of dedicated volunteers who come together to patch together these events, all of which culminate with a great big two-day festival this weekend. There is a paragraph about these persons in the pride guide and our paper. None were paid, and all gave of their free time to make this event happen.

Each of them deserves our praise and thanks. It wasn’t all roses. There are disputes, fractured houses, and infighting. But you play through. It’s a marathon. You compromise; you come together, and you get to where you have to go.

Dr. Sonia Mitchell organized volunteers, and Barrie Wood has spent countless hours working through the logistical nightmare of planning out booths.

Luciano Retondo worked on our website, and Roger Handevidt walked through city streets in the hot summer sun to sell pride guide ads.

Tim Higgins stepped over from Stonewall and Bryan Wilson, who works with SunServe, has jumped in to coordinate the Himmarshee Street closing party to benefit youth groups.

Lori Lyons of Yellow Cab lent her marketing expertise, and before he left the group when his dad passed away, John Fugate developed Outreach Programs like the Pride Honors series.

Sean Manning and Rocky Bowell, whose full time job is at the Pride Factory, have not only stayed with Pride through thick and thin, they represent us across the country in interstate pride events. Next year, the southeastern regional event will be hosted by Pride Fort Lauderdale.

Still, whatever the volunteers do, it is never enough. An organization lending sustenance to our entire community requires a paid executive director and at least a small staff. This year, we engaged professionals like TPro- Cire Citron, to develop the website, and Sharon Kersten, to handle public relations.

Sunshine Tents, through its owner, Dev, offered us a discount on last year’s debt and helped build the site you will see this weekend. Little Critters is helping us out with the children’s zoo. PCI is giving us a cut of the food, and local bars and distilleries are donating liquor. Good things happen when good people give of themselves.

Next year, we will ask the Community Foundation of Broward to help underwrite staff salaries. But most of all, we will ask you to again find time to give of yourselves to help others. We can’t do it alone. Like the Stonewall Library hosting tonite’s Pub Crawl, and the MiFo Film Festival volunteers hosting a party at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, we grow together when we give together.

This year, Pride Fort Lauderdale reorganized. Next year, it has the opportunity to soar. Working with the City of Fort Lauderdale, and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Business Bureau, we are talking about holding a parade and festival on A1A, along the beach, matching Miami and making a statement of our own. It will take a yeoman’s effort and so much of your help.

Me? I will stop by the parade next year, but right now I would be pretty satisfied going to my law office daily, publishing SFGN weekly, and getting to the World Series in California.

I hope you have a great time this weekend. Stop by and say hello. I will be the guy with the rope around his neck, saying, “Why?”

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