Don't know much about history? Well, here's a quick lesson. Until the late 1960s, America's closet door was shut tight. In July of 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village. As patrons were questioned and detained, the street erupted into a violent protest, and the gay community fought back en masse for three days. Slowly, the closet door creaked open. Over the next eight years, small steps were made to guarantee gay and lesbian rights. Advocacy groups sprang up, gay-run publications such as The Advocate began publishing, and Harvey Milk, an openly gay man, was elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. In 1977, former beauty queen turned Bible-thumper Anita Bryant launched the Save Our Children campaign in Miami with the avowed purpose of rescuing Florida from the evils of homosexuality and protecting children from what she believed to be "gay recruitment." Bryant's crusade backfired, and, in a display of poetic justice, served to further strengthen the solidarity of the gay and lesbian community. She lost her job as spokesperson for Florida orange juice that year, after activists organized a juice boycott, and the closet door swung open.
Pride South Florida started 26 years ago in response to Bryant's attacks. The nonprofit organization, composed of volunteers who offer support and educational information to the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities, hosts Pridefest 2003, an annual celebration of diversity, unity, and entertainment. The event has taken place in Miami and Hollywood in the past, but Pride South Florida's co-chair Richard Cimoch sees Fort Lauderdale as the perfect stage. "There's so much cultural development going on in Fort Lauderdale," Cimoch says. "This is not just a vacation spot anymore. Young, working-class people live here, and there are just more people willing to get involved."
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This year's two-day event features an antique-car show; food; voter registration; interactive games; a children's play area; GLBT support and education information; raffles; disco and country-western dancing; and performances by DJ Mike Cruz, the Roughriders, and dance/house diva Kim English. Attendees will be able to examine examples from the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, a unique commemoration of AIDS victims. Since the project began in San Francisco in 1987, more than 44,000 panels and 84,000 names of AIDS victims have been added to the quilt. Pridefest will display several individual quilts made by South Florida residents. Pride South Florida's upcoming events include a candlelight vigil in June to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Stonewall. "Hopefully this year's festival will get even more people involved in issues and causes," Cimoch says. "Participation is the key to success and creating awareness."