Now that Fort Lauderdale has banished under-21 revelers from its nightclubs, what's a fun-loving gay, lesbian, or bisexual youngster to do? Try strutting your stuff on stage at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Fort Lauderdale's open-mic night.
From attire to talent, anything goes, as long as you're younger than age 25. "Some of them are musicians," says Melanie Joy Cohn, Youth Services Coordinator at the GLCC. "We've had two people play flutes. A trumpet. We've had people read poetry -- that's a big one. My sister and I sing."
The monthly talent show features a different theme each time; the most recent installment had performers in pajamas. According to Cohn: "It was really cute. Almost everyone came in PJs." This week's theme: Halloween (sort of). The event will break for the holidays, so October 21 is the last chance in 2000 for gay youth to get artistic in front of an enthusiastic crowd of peers.
Cohn says anyone with the guts to get on stage can perform. "It's definitely a self-esteem booster," she says. "It's not a competition. Even if you screw up, it doesn't matter. The audience is very supportive."
And that's part of the plan. Cohn's job is to provide activities and a welcoming atmosphere for nonhetero teens. The idea for the open-mic evening came from her boss, GLCC executive director Tony Beall. "We were trying to think differently, [to] innovate ways to find fun, safe places for youth," Cohn recalls. "It's definitely another place for them to hang out on the weekends, and there's no alcohol and drugs."
Instead the perks are legal: Freebies, donated by community organizations and businesses, might be T-shirts one month, keychains with monster finger puppets the next; last month donors offered rainbow necklaces and Pez dispensers. The combination of trinkets and talent seems to be going over well.
"I'm guessing they're having fun, because they're coming back, and they're bringing their friends," Cohn offers. "It's a good, healthy alternative."