Five years ago an event known as the Winter Party was staged for the express purpose of raising funds for SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone). The mission: to defeat an anti-gay amendment to the Florida constitution that would allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. At that fete close to a thousand people frolicked from noon to sunset on the sand at Fifteenth Street in Miami Beach.
The amendment was eventually a bust: A month after the bash, a referendum to put the amendment on the ballot was thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court because it was too vaguely worded. The party, however, was a big hit. Although SAVE went adrift, organizers wanted to continue throwing the event. They just needed something to do with the money they collected.
Thus was the genesis of the Dade Human Rights Foundation (DHRF). Formed to raise awareness and advance education about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues, the foundation provides grants for endeavors produced by those very same folks. "The gay and lesbian community in our county did not have significant funding sources," says Clark Reynolds, DHRF executive director. "The community needed to develop an infrastructure. It was very loose, the organizations here weren't very large or secure financially. We decided to fund the ones that had good projects and good prospects." Since its inception, the DHRF has awarded more than $400,000 in grants to a long list of local organizations such as the Alliance Film/Video Co-Op, the Miami Light Project, and Area Stage.
These days the Winter Party is a trademarked name and it has stretched into a five-day-long circuit party called Winter Party Weekend. Nearly 3000 attendees are expected at ten events with names such as Relight My Fire and Tropical Juice, taking place at nightclubs all over South Beach and, of course, on the sand itself. New to the mix is the first-annual Rising DJ Showcase, featuring scads of established and up-and-coming DJs who spin at parties across the country. This year's highlight: a performance at Salvation nightclub by Bette Midler, who developed a huge gay following early in her career when she performed at New York City bathhouses.
That much partying may sound exhausting for the average reveler, but some find the action puts them on a higher plane. "The end result is spiritual uplift," says DHRF board member Steve Baird. "It's a tribal communion with your people, a very celebratory, very life-affirming, life-loving experience."
Winter Party Weekend takes place from March 11 through March 15 at various locations. Admission to the welcome party is free. Individual tickets for other events range from $15 to $75. Passes, which guarantee entry into several events cost $159 and $250. See "Calendar Events," page 36, for details.