South Florida Pride orgs avoid backlash over inclusivity plaguing other cities

The Fort Lauderdale City Commission presents an LGBTQ+ Pride Month proclamation June 1 to Pride Fort Lauderdale activists. From left, Shawn Palacious (aka Kitty Meow), Ashley Mayfaire, Morgan Mayfaire, Commissioner Steve Glassman, Kevin Clevenger and Donald Gunder of South Florida Afro Pride; back row, Mayor Dean Trantalis, and Commissioner Robert McKinzie; foreground, Miik Martorell. Photo via City of Fort Lauderdale Facebook page.

In a few major American cities this summer, Pride Month devolved into anything but.

Philadelphia’s Philly Pride Presents (PPP) shut down in late June amid community complaints that the committee failed to be inclusive of queer, trans, bi people of color. Since then, a coalition of Black and Brown LGBT community leaders began making plans to revive Pride, according to Philadelphia Gay News.

On July 9, Boston Pride announced it, too, had closed over similar complaints from people of color:

“It is clear to us that our community needs and wants change without the involvement of Boston Pride. We have heard the concerns of the QTBIPOC community and others. We care too much to stand in the way. Therefore, Boston Pride is dissolving. There will be no further events or programming planned, and the board is taking steps to close down the organization.”

And in New York City, police reportedly pepper-sprayed some people and arrested others June 27 at Washington Square Park following Reclaim Pride’s Queer Liberation March. This came after the city’s Heritage of Pride organization banned uniformed police — including queer members of GOAL, the Gay Officers Action League — from marching in future New York City Pride parades until at least 2025.

Now, as South Florida LGBT activists plan fall pride parades (delayed from spring because of the COVID-19 crisis), organizers believe their groups will thrive without similar controversy.

“We will always be closely watched by our community as it should be,” said Miik Martorell, president of Pride Fort Lauderdale. “Knowing this, we have a responsibility in making sure that we hear our community’s needs and find innovative ways to incorporate our entire community in pride. Our pride festival should always reflect the dynamic and diverse community we live in.”

Pride Fort Lauderdale is planning its first in-person event since 2019. A two-day beach festival is scheduled for Nov. 20-21.

Martorell, a popular local DJ and member of InterPride, an international association of pride organizers, said his “heart sank” when he learned of the disbanded Boston committee — and that he stands by the group’s former board members, with whom he volunteered the past four years.

“I just felt like they were being beaten up on unfairly by people who don’t understand how a pride organization works and just how much it takes to make how much money, how much time, how much effort — it really hurt my heart.”

Martorell believes South Florida prides will not suffer the same fate because local organizers know first-hand the importance of cultural diversity.

“I don’t see the things that people see in other places,” said Martorell, a gay Cuban American originally of South Miami-Dade. “I went to Southridge Senior High. It was an equal mix of Black, Hispanic and white. That’s what I grew up on. That’s what I saw. So that’s my reality. And most people down here have seen more culture in a condensed space than you’ll find anywhere else.

“We’re used to the fact that the people we are dealing with are always going to be different. That’s probably one of the things that makes it easier for us,” he continued. “I’m Hispanic. I’m a person of color, technically, but I don’t even use that term because I’m just me. You know, just like when people say, ‘Are you gay?’ I’m Miik first. The other things are all additional. That’s who I am.”

Martorell has been Pride Fort Lauderdale’s president since 2016. The next year, he met Ashley and Morgan Mayfaire, a married couple who founded TransSOCIAL, a South Florida group to increase trans visibility. Ashley is “a queer non-binary person” and said that “Morgan identifies as a queer trans man.”

After they met Martorell, the Pride Fort Lauderdale board donated a festival booth to TransSOCIAL, and soon after the Mayfaires created Trans Pride Fort Lauderdale, now part of Pride Fort Lauderdale.

In 2019, Pride Fort Lauderdale awarded $16,000 in community grants, including four programs serving the trans community, three of which are focused on trans youth.

“The majority of LGBTQ nonprofits are not representative of the community they serve,” said Ashley Mayfaire, now treasurer of Pride Fort Lauderdale. “For us, we’re a small working board. We take it seriously that we need to make sure we meaningfully involve the community we’re hosting Pride for.”

Mayfaire said Pride Fort Lauderdale’s “general attitude of inclusion and honestly… stems from community-minded folks being on the board the past few years, and making sure we invite people in and making sure they participate in meaningful ways.

“There are many definitions for what ‘meaningful’ means, but for us it’s making sure everyone’s voice is heard and ideas are included. Morgan and I joined the board a few years ago. It was really at the board’s invitation because the board realized it wanted to make sure that trans people have a seat at the table, and a vote.”

This year, Pride Fort Lauderdale has “invited South Florida Afro Pride to have a stage,” Martorell said.

“Here’s the way we look at it: They’re really wonderful people,” he said. “Their focus is on mental health, which is amazing, because I don’t know any other Pride organizations that are doing that. It’s extraordinary, because that’s a big thing we all deal with, every one of us.”

On June 1, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission presented an LGBTQ+ Pride Month proclamation to Fort Lauderdale Pride. Accepting the proclamation were Martorell, Ashley and Morgan Mayfaire, board member Shawn Palacious (aka Kitty Meow), Executive Director Kevin J. Clevenger and Donald Gunder, co-founder of South Florida Afro Pride.

Miami Beach Pride, which began in 2009 with a crowd of about 15,000 attendees, now welcomes an estimated 140,000 people annually. Its 2021 festival is scheduled for Sept. 10-19 in South Beach, with a beach festival on Saturday, Sept. 18, and the annual Ocean Drive parade on Sunday, Sept. 19.

The Pride board’s 14 members work diligently to make sure the event appeals to a diverse group of attendees, according to board chair Bruce Horwich.

“That comes from a few different directions,” said Horwich, co-owner with husband Ben Lyman of the Creative Male lifestyle store near Midtown Miami. “The first one is making sure that we have a board that represents the community. When I say that, it’s not just the color of the person’s skin, it’s male, female, trans, older, younger. So we’ve always strived to keep the board as diverse as possible.”

Horwich said the Miami Beach Pride board is purposely diverse.

“We look for people who bring something to the board, for instance, myself as an accountant,” he said. “We now have two attorneys on our board. We have people like Henry [Williams], who is Tiffany Fantasia, who is more involved in what happens on the Beach every day. His ears are really to the ground and he hears what people are talking about, what’s happening in entertainment.”

Miami Beach Pride also strives to appeal to a wide swath of attendees. “We also think about what entertainment will bring people of all interests, whether it be something that appeals to the Latin community, to the young community, to the elder community — music from the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Horwich said.

Year-round, Miami Beach Pride hosts events to bring people together, he said.

“We had a Faces of Pride event where we had people from the community talking about what it was like to be themselves. Whether they were from the gay, lesbian or trans community. They were explaining things to the audience and what it was like to be, say, trans, and why pronouns were important to them,” he said. “A person like myself, I learned a lot by just sitting there in the audience and listening to them.”  

Miami Beach Pride, established in 2008 by then-Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower as an initiative of the Miami Beach Gay Business Development Council, has always had a close working relationship with Miami Beach Police. In 2013, the department unveiled a specially painted Pride patrol car with rainbow stripes and lettering. Uniformed police officers have always participated in Miami Beach Pride events and will continue to do so, Horwich said.

“My feeling has always been, again, inclusivity, and a gay police officer who struggled for many years coming out and being themselves in the police force, if they want to march and wear the uniform and be proud of it, I think they should be able to do that,” he said. “If we’re going to talk about issues of a police officer doing something terrible to someone in the community, that to me is a separate issue. I think that has nothing to do with police officers who want to participate and march and wear their uniforms.”

Steve Rothaus is a writer for the South Florida Gay News, where this article first appeared. Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. Find him @SteveRothaus on Twitter.