BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
South Florida's annual Pridefest, originally held 35 years ago during the gay-rights battle in Miami-Dade County, returns Saturday to Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale.
“Pride, no matter where it is and how big the scope, is important to a community,” said gay TV actor Jonathan D. Lovitz, who grew up in Coral Springs and will be an emcee at Pridefest on Sunday.
“We can’t be ignored. It’s a reminder that in a state like Florida, it’s going to come from a place like Fort Lauderdale,” said Lovitz, The Miami Herald's 2002 Silver Knight Award winner in Drama.
Lovitz will share emcee duties on Sunday with Mikey Verdugo, the Hollywood cop fired because he once appeared in a 15-minute porn film.
“After what I went through, you could be fired simply for being gay in Florida,” said Verdugo, who now owns gyms in Davie and Wilton Manors. “The good thing about this is that it’s not just for gays. I have so many straight friends coming to support the cause.”
Saturday emcees will be Sirius XM talk host Derek Hartley and drag queen Nicolette of Lips nightclub in Oakland Park. Entertainment includes singers Beverly McClellan on Saturday and Taylor Dayne on Sunday.
"PrideFest is a great opportunity for us to all come together as a community, once each year, and celebrate all that we have achieved," Hartley said.
The event began in Coral Gables in 1977, the same year singer Anita Bryant led a campaign to repeal Miami-Dade County’s first gay rights ordinance. Pridefest rotated between Dade and Broward counties through 1985 when it settled in Fort Lauderdale, said Marc Hansen, this year’s event co-chairman.
Pride South Florida, which produces the event, suffered a financial setback a few years ago when its treasurer embezzled more than $47,000 from the group. In 2011, Mike Cruz pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree grand theft.
To save money, the group moved Pridefest from its usual location, Holiday Park, to a smaller venue in Oakland Park.
“We were able to charge less money for it. We took a couple of hits and that’s why we were there for two years,” Hansen said.
This weekend, Pridefest will again be at Holiday Park. “The community asked us to return, so we did,” Hansen said. “We negotiated and the city of Fort Lauderdale, being as supportive as they are, welcomed us open arms.”
IF YOU GO
Pridefest 2012 runs noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at Holiday Park War Memorial Auditorium, 800 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $10 per day or $15 for a two-day pass.
For more information and a full schedule of events, visit www.pridesouthflorida.org.