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Removing the Unity From the Gay Community

The gay-pride parade is long over. But any appearance of unity displayed at last month's march through the streets of Fort Lauderdale has mutated into bitterness and invective, which in turn may lead to a lawsuit.

The antagonism within the gay community caused by the parade has grown so bad, in fact, that Bill Salicco, president of the Dolphin Democratic Club, has boycotted Fort Lauderdale's only South African restaurant and urged his membership to do likewise. The Dolphin Club is central Broward's gay political bloc, credited by Democratic politicos with putting a gay-friendly town council in power in Wilton Manors last March.

Salicco's gripe: ZAN(Z)BAR restaurant is gay owned and operated but didn't stick up for gay rights when Pride South Florida wanted to march past the restaurant's Las Olas Boulevard locale on Saturday evening, June 20. Instead marchers were forced that evening to walk along quieter side streets near the trendy boulevard.

If ZAN(Z)BAR were gay friendly, as it purports to be, Salicco says its owners would have stood against the ten other merchants comprising the Las Olas Association -- all of them supposedly straight -- who voted unanimously to recommend that the gay-pride parade be prohibited from Las Olas on the busiest night of the week.

"They should have stood up for us and supported us and said, 'How can we make this happen?' And say, 'What can we do as representatives of the gay community on Las Olas?'" Salicco said.

But ZAN(Z)BAR's owners, James Sands and Michael Egdes, didn't protest.
Neither, to be sure, did most of the other two dozen gay-owned, gay-operated, and allegedly gay-friendly businesses of Las Olas Boulevard.

A parade on a Saturday night, the business owners reasoned, would tie up traffic and hurt business in the midst of the already financially difficult days of South Florida summer.

"We all looked at it from a business standpoint," said Laura Cook, the owner of a Las Olas apothecary and a member of the recently formed Rainbow Alliance, a group of gay-friendly Las Olas merchants who have pooled resources for advertising and promotion.

"It doesn't matter who it was," she said. "We didn't want a parade on a Saturday evening."

Nonetheless, in what boils down to a conflict between political activism on gay issues and the harsh reality of running a profitable business -- gay, straight, or otherwise -- Salicco publically blamed only the restaurateurs of ZAN(Z)BAR.

"If you're gay friendly, you're gay friendly all the time," Salicco asserts. "And if you're not all the time, you're not gay friendly. They should have made accommodations instead of saying, 'Oh, well, we can make money. We're not that gay.'"

As Salicco explained in the July issue of the Dolphin Club's monthly newsletter, for the past four years the parade has been scheduled for Sunday afternoons on Las Olas. To increase visibility and allow AIDS survivors to participate without suffering from the summer sun, Pride South Florida requested permission from the city this year to hold the parade on a Saturday evening instead.

"What happened next," Salicco wrote, "was inexcusable. Owners of a gay owned and operated restaurant received word of parade changes and embarked on a campaign to halt the parade because they felt they would lose thousands of dollars if the parade was allowed to halt traffic in front of their 'tiny' eatery for 45 minutes."

Salicco never called the restaurant by name, but to Las Olas merchants as well as Salicco's readers, it was already well-known. ZAN(Z)BAR is the street's only known "gay owned and operated restaurant." And because of this restaurant's gall, Salicco noted, "all the hard work and volunteer hours that went into creating our first ever night-time PRIDE PARADE went up in smoke."

Salicco's solution for the 5000 readers he claims to have: Spend money on gay-friendly businesses. Of which ZAN(Z)BAR, he indicates, is not one.

"As far as businesses being 'gay friendly' when it's financially convenient -- tell them to go 'straight' to hell!" he wrote. "We have lots of 'GAY DOLLARS' & 'GAY VOTES' we all must learn how to use them for the advancement of our community!"

Richard Cimoch, for one, has heeded the call. As a Pride member, a former ZAN(Z)BAR customer, and a person who tends to patronize businesses that show genuine support for the gay community, he won't be going back.

"I spend my money on people who support my rights, and I just have no need to go there now," Cimoch says.

Sands argues that his restaurant, Las Olas merchants, and the city of Fort Lauderdale have supported the Pride parade for years. He would have supported it this year, too, he says, if it were held at any time other than Saturday night.

Sands wasn't alone in his thinking.
When Pride requested a permit, the city told the Pride board to get the OK from the Las Olas Association first. On May 26, the entire board of the Las Olas Association recommended that the city deny Pride's request for permission to have a Saturday-evening parade. A few days later, the Pride board approached the Rainbow Alliance to ask the purportedly gay-friendly businesses to pressure the merchants' association to give the city the go-ahead and allow the evening parade.

At the meeting, which was held at ZAN(Z)BAR, Pride members argued that Las Olas merchants allow street fairs and festivals all the time without worrying about financial consequences. In fact, the festivals actually bring customers to Las Olas.

Sands and the alliance members argued that they usually know about festivals well before the date and have time to plan accordingly. Sands said the alliance and the association weren't antigay -- just pragmatic.

"I think it's very easy for [Salicco] to come to us and say we should be prepared to give up our business," says Sands. "Why is he telling us how we should be gay friendly and show our pride?"

After the parade -- marchers avoided Las Olas Boulevard -- the Pride board sent two members to ZAN(Z)BAR and successfully smoothed things over with its owners, according to Gretchen Hasselkuf, Pride's spokesperson. The Dolphin Club's president was less circumspect, although Hasselkuf, who is also a Dolphin board member, said that board has not officially discussed ZAN(Z)BAR or Salicco's editorial.

"[Salicco] is our leader, and he has expressed himself to me and to others as an aggressive activist for gay rights, which I believe the leader of any gay-rights organization should be," Hasselkuf says. "But Pride is much more of a 'Let's all work together' kind of group."

Salicco's misplaced aggression, Sands claims, has caused ZAN(Z)BAR to stagnate financially in a month when he expected it to grow. As a result, he says, he is considering a defamation lawsuit against Salicco.

The threat of legal action doesn't worry Salicco, who noted that Sands and Egdes have threatened others with litigation in the past. Indeed, the restaurateurs recently filed a lawsuit against Miami Metro magazine for an unflattering restaurant review.

"I would welcome a lawsuit," Salicco added. "That would be the biggest joke. If they thought they had trouble before, they should see what happens then.

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Michael Freedman

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