BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Even a seasoned activist like Chaz Bono was impressed by the tens of thousands of men, women and children who turned out Sunday for the fourth annual Miami Beach Gay Pride parade.
“A really diverse group of people: people with kids; straight people; people of color; different nationalities; everything,” said Bono, 43, the transgender son of musical superstars Sonny and Cher who rode as grand marshal in the noon procession up Ocean Drive.
“I’m always just surprised by people’s response to me,” said Bono, a former Dancing With the Stars contestant who once worked for Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “It’s incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic.”
This year, 67 floats, cars and groups rode and marched along Ocean Drive from Fifth to 14th streets. The parade participants were also diverse, including gay-straight alliances from churches and schools across Miami-Dade County; Macy’s; the Miami Beach City Commission, police and fire departments; the Stonewall National Museum and Archives of Fort Lauderdale; Coca-Cola; AT&T; Jackson Memorial Hospital; Borinquen Medical Center, which won the outstanding float prize; and Swinging Richards, an all-nude male strip bar in North Miami Beach (the strippers modestly wore tiny shorts).
“It was amazing. I actually got emotional at the parade,” said Jason Hunt, 39, who attended with his partner of four years, Alex Suarez, 32.
“It’s getting better every year,” Suarez said. Both men have attended all four Miami Beach Gay Pride parades.
Charlie Escudero, 37, said the event “unites the community.”
“There’s no better place to do that to showcase our power, our dominance,” said William Rodriguez, 41.
Sunday’s parade was emceed by Tiffany Fantasia, a drag queen from The Palace bar on Ocean Drive; Miami Beach businesswoman Karen Brown; and radio personality Mark “Marky G” Gilbert. Float judges: CBS-4 meteorologist David Bernard, PR professional Cece Feinberg and Babalu Miami owner Greg Melvin.
At 1 p.m., the emcees called a moment of silence in memory of LGBT lives lost to suicide, HIV/AIDS and in the military. Immediately afterward, the crowd broke the quiet with a roar in support of bullying victims.
“It’s our It Gets Better moment,” said parade publicist Richard Murry, referring to the anti-bullying video campaign launched two years ago by gay columnist Dan Savage.
Miami Beach Gay Pride has its genesis in the city’s LGBT Business Development Committee, an ad hoc group started in 2008 by Mayor Matti Herrera Bower. This year’s festival brought a few strategic changes after some Beach businesses complained that earlier events didn’t have enough tourist appeal.
The committee moved the parade from Saturday to Sunday and created a four-day festival that began with parties on Wednesday night. Sunday’s planned events included performances by gay circuit stars including singer Kristine W and fireworks at night.
The idea, Murry said, is “to bring more tourists to town, not just to entertain the locals but to broaden the allure to Miami Beach visitors.”
Still, most of the parade attendees appeared to be from South Florida.
“First and foremost, it’s an event for the community,” Murry said.
Despite this year’s flash and a bit of flesh, one tradition that began with the first parade still was the crowd’s sentimental favorite: the “legacy couples” who have been together at least 20 years. This year, more than 60 longtime couples joined the parade.
Dick Dehn and Gary Payne of Fort Lauderdale shared their secret to 54 successful years together.
“Patience,” Dehn said. “On both our parts.”
Photos by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald Staff