Rainbow flags fly high and proud around Fort Lauderdale not only during Pride Month, but throughout the year. That's because Fort Lauderdale and its neighboring cities, such as Wilton Manors and Oakland Park, have some of the highest concentrations of same-sex households in the country. And although the region has long attracted members of the LGBTQIA community, those numbers are growing even more these days.
"You are now beginning to see more and more members of the LGBTQ community coming here in droves because they know it is a welcoming, embracing community that defines itself by its diversity," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis tells New Times.
During the 1980s and 1990s, gay and lesbian guesthouses throughout Fort Lauderdale provided the opportunity for those within the LGBTQIA community to visit the city in a safe environment. Many of those visitors relocated and became permanent residents, transforming some of the more deteriorated areas in the city.
"People in the LGBTQ community historically have always found themselves going to places [where] they would [be] out of sight of mainstream society because of the prejudice and bigotry," says Mayor Trantalis. "Historically, you will find members of the gay community go to neighborhoods that pretty much were deteriorated or not the center of attention."
As the LGBTQ community ventured to South Florida, it helped to revitalize and create the many hidden gems in and around Fort Lauderdale.
"You will notice the progression of the community has taken that path; with areas of Fort Lauderdale that were often beaten up in a way, and we came in and changed those neighborhoods around," says Trantalis, who is the first openly gay mayor in city history. "We came in and rehabilitated many sections of Fort Lauderdale, such as Victoria Park, Lake Ridge, and Poinsettia Heights."
With that migration came a major change. LGBTQ members of the community — including Mayor Trantalis — came out of the shadows.
"Now the gay community has become more mainstream. People like myself are holding public office or high profile public positions, so that inclination to remain on the sidelines is no longer the impetus within the community," he says.
But Trantalis also acknowledges that Fort Lauderdale has not always lived up to its reputation as a progressive haven.
"Fort Lauderdale's history has not been stellar in embracing diversity, but we have evolved. We have matured, and I think my serving as mayor is representative of that maturity... I was voted in as mayor not because I am gay, but because of what I represented in terms of the issues to the city," Trantalis says. "I realized whenever I meet people, everyone knows I am the 'big gay mayor,' but it is never brought up. The fact that I am openly gay— I think that many people in Fort Lauderdale see it as a badge of honor that we are a progressive community shedding our past and embracing all people of all cultures, origins, and beliefs."
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