Holiday Park, here we come

As I begin this editorial, I recognize I am treading on thin ice. Wait, this is South Florida in June, so make that walking barefoot on hot pavement.

I am here today to comment on the Wilton Manors attempt to conduct a Pride festival in June on Wilton Drive. It failed. The hearse in the parade said it all. Yes, we can compliment the effort, but you have to live with the result.

In this case, the daytime activities were sparsely attended and driven more by crass commercialism than spiritual advancement. Basically, you had a vendor fest on the Drive in the middle of the summer on a 100-degree day.

Pride festivals have to be more than businesses giving away balloons and entertainers performing on a stage. They need to be a unifying and galvanizing force for the community. A late evening parade and a street festival would have been fine, but the city of Wilton Manors refused to scale down the event.

Still, keep in mind that closing the street and opening the bars does not make a Pride festival. Hell, they do that in Austin, Texas every weekend at 10 p.m. If Wilton Manors was smart, we ought to send a city commissioner or two over there to see how it is done, and how it has generated immense revenues and created an artistic community. Heck, their motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ That’s a title Wilton Manors should own!

Some self-disclosure needs to be made. In the last year, I became chair of Pride Fort Lauderdale, which used to be known as Pride South Florida. The group ran the Wilton Manors Street fair last year, and they lost so much money doing it, they could not run a festival in Holiday Park this past spring, as they had for years and years.

I became a volunteer and eventual chair for Pride South Florida, which has now changed its name to Greater Fort Lauderdale Pride, and moved its Holiday Park festival to October 10 and 11. I think it is going to be a home run, and here is why. Instead of talking about what was, I would rather share with you what will be.

First, we have partnered with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, to generate publicity and promotions.

Second, we have partnered with the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival to use the park setting for evening films indoors and possibly outdoors, tying into their film festival the same week.

Third, we have joined with the Stonewall Library for them to set up a historical display and exhibit in the Rotunda as community members enter the festival during National Coming Out Day, which is October 10.

Fourth, we have invited various AIDS organizations to conduct educational seminars and on the spot testing with a host of their mobile testing units.

Fifth, we have partnered with SunServe and the City of Fort Lauderdale to have a closing party Sunday night, for Pridelines Youth Services, October 11 on the historical Himmarrshee Street in downtown Fort Lauderdale, reaching out to city residents in a mainstream venue.

Sixth, we are going to have politicians, but don’t look for proclamations and speeches. The media and elected officials will join in promoting our gay softball leagues with a celebrity softball game. Expect Debbie Wasserman Shultz to field grounders instead of questions.

Seventh, we are going to have a children’s and family section promoting a petting zoo with donkeys, chickens, and even those little ponies kids can take rides on.

Eighth, we are going to have entertainment to be sure, but more than that, older LGBT members will find small seminars with retirement planning, financial counseling, parenting, and legal advice.

The bottom line is that a festival has to be more than businesses selling hot tubs and bars giving away beer. You have to realize that with Mack Mixers, business and professional groups, we already interact often, even on a weekly basis through various functions and non-profits.

Based on that, we have to do more than just throw a party. At Holiday Park, we are all together, in the shades and the trees, with an indoor auditorium. It gives us an opportunity to bring people closer, share the moment a little bit more.

We are working on a parade too, and if we can pull it off, I can guarantee you there won’t be a Hearse in it. The bottom line is that the ideas we have need to be implemented and executed. We have volunteers, but we need more, and experienced persons at that. We need your help.

Pride Fort Lauderdale meets every second Monday, 7 p.m., at the Pride office, located at 690 Northeast 13th Street. You can reach out to us with your donation or time by calling 954-561-2020 or check out our website. To lease a booth, or rent a space, simply go online and pick your favorite location.

Running a festival like this is a challenge like I have never faced. I hesitate to criticize those who gave their time and effort to do so in Wilton Manors last week. But as I told the city commissioners last January when they expected Pride Fort Lauderdale to run it for them again this year, it was not a wise choice, neither financially prudent or socially practical. This past weekend again proved that to be so.

As the publisher of SFGN, it is my duty to make sure our paper reports on the Wilton Manors festival, its finances, and its fortunes. Last year, this newspaper unhesitatingly wrote about Pride South Florida’s misfortunes, and this year, when appropriate, our reporters will independently write about the job Pride Fort Lauderdale is doing, regardless of my title or position.

Unfortunately, as people are saying on Facebook, the Wilton Manors festival appeared to fall flat on its face. One of our more respected community leaders, Terry DeCarlo, now running Orlando’s pride center, even called the event ‘pathetic.’ It will now be up to Pride Fort Lauderdale to see if our team can rise to the occasion and do what Wilton Manors could not.

Let’s move from what just happened and see now what we can all do. Let’s say thanks to those that tried, and welcome to those who volunteer. There is much to be done, and less than 120 days to do it. Let’s work together to celebrate Pride in a year that we will gather not just as domestic partners, but married couples.

Let’s work to make Greater Fort Lauderdale Pride an event we can all celebrate and commend.