Click photo to view a gallery. Photos by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald Staff
BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Even a constant rain on her gay-pride parade couldn’t dampen Michelle Madonia’s spirits.
“There will be no more rain! I’m not worried about it all. I came prepared,” said Madonia, of Fort Lauderdale, showing off an oversize rainbow umbrella at Sunday’s 12th annual Stonewall Street Festival and Parade in Wilton Manors.
About 25,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender festival-goers, and straight allies, were expected along the parade route, which shut down Wilton Drive for a half-mile through the Central Broward city’s shopping district. This year’s grand marshal: Thomas Roberts, MSNBC’s 11 a.m. news anchor.
Roberts came out professionally as gay in September 2006 at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami Beach. He and other television reporters, including WSVN-7’s Craig Stevens, served on a panel titled “Off Camera: The Challenges for LGBT TV Anchors.”
“It was the first major step,” recalled Roberts, at the time a CNN anchor. “Being on the panel made it easier in the process. I thought it was nice to be included, and thought it would be helpful to other young journalists. I thought it would be kind of cool for younger people coming up to know you could be personally and professionally successful by living your truth.”
Roberts’ coming out became big news in both the gay and mainstream media after CNN reassigned him from anchor duties days after the convention.
“It was unfortunate timing,” Roberts said Sunday, adding that during the convention a CNN talent recruiter advised him he would soon learn “about some assignment changes.”
Roberts left CNN in May 2007. After a stint on The Insider, he joined MSNBC in April 2010.
Stonewall organizers invited Roberts and his partner of 10 years, Patrick Abner, to be in this year’s parade.
“The message would be great to get across to everybody, especially as we are inching forward to equality on all levels, is to make sure our voices are heard, to never shy away when the times are tough,” said Roberts, 38. “Things have never been better in this country in terms of LGBT equality, and I think we have better days ahead.”
The annual parade and festival “brings people out of the woodwork,” said Nate Klarfeld, past president of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale.
“Many people don’t know what Stonewall is,” Klarfeld said of the June 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar, that sparked the modern gay-rights movement.
Teaching about Stonewall is part of the mission at Latinos Salud, a Wilton Manors-based agency for gay and bisexual Latin men ages 18 to 44.
“To us, [the festival] is an extremely big deal because we want to teach our own people what Stonewall is about,” said Rafáelé Narváez, the group’s director of health programs. As gay people, they want to know what happened, that we have a history, too.”
Latinos Salud serves about 350 clients. “In our culture, we have to have a safe place to meet outside the bars,” Narváez said.
The organization, which provides life coaching and HIV-prevention counseling, is funded by the Florida Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sunday, dozens of members crammed the Latinos Salud office on Wilton Drive, making last-minute preparations for the parade.
Here, the clientele “feels at home,” outreach worker Anthony Alexander said. “They are free to speak Spanish. They feel like they are in their own community. Everywhere else, they are like minorities.”