Fight for Your White to Party

White Party Week is one of the nation's biggest AIDS fundraisers and wildest bashes -- a problem or a godsend, depending on whom you ask

Morning Party may be dead, but the controversy, Johnson says, is very much alive. "There was and still is a debate within the agency, the board members, our staff, and volunteers over these issues, including a strong feeling that GMHC caved in to anti-gay forces [by canceling Morning Party]. Some people within the gay community applaud our decision to end it, and [there are] people who still are angry at us."

How much money is the agency missing out on? "Don't make me cry," Johnson implores. "Our net income from the '98 party was $450,000. And, no, we haven't been able to replace that funding."

Lark Bennett of Care Resource is proud of the women's events this year
Steve Satterwhite
Lark Bennett of Care Resource is proud of the women's events this year

The night of the White Party proper is clear and breezy. Though most of the attendees are content to show up in crisp white shirts and slacks -- with the occasional sailor outfit or guayabera -- several White Partiers have saved up their best costumes for last. The coolest getups have nothing to do with drag, either. The Trojan warrior, whose feathery white crest glimmers with tiny lights; the pair wearing nothing but towering white Mardi Gras masks and briefs; the diabolical figure in a white robe with black ram's horns sprouting from his head.

Still, the overwhelming impression from the party is the wearin' of the white, and even though the vast majority of the guests are in T-shirts, the ocean of white against the backdrop of Vizcaya and its grounds has an undeniable elegance.

And, as its organizers insist, the White Party doesn't feel like "that kind of party." From the mansion itself to the hedges behind to the elevated terrace where a torch singer croons to a crowd sampling free food from various restaurants, even to the dance floor between the house and the docks, the ambiance is one of slightly reverent revelry. Bacchus is here (demanding a sacrifice of $200), but he's on his best behavior. At least, as far as is evident. The New Times reporter, like all members of the Fourth Estate, is accompanied by a press escort: in this case, two very nice women from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor's Bureau. And all press is "escorted" out the door at 9:00 p.m., two and a half hours before the party officially ends.

"We used to not let press in at all," remarks Sharon Kersten, publicist for White Party Week. "I don't know why that is," says Mahar later. "It's not like we all got naked at 9:01."

Nelly Hernandez is there as well, with about ten other women who'd been involved in organizing Cirque Blanc. "The men were so happy to see this roving band of lesbians," she says with a laugh. "People who didn't know us, including big-ass drag queens, were photographing us: 'Ooh, let's get a picture with the girls!'"

"It was so beautiful; I was proud to be part of it," she continues. "I've been a gay person in this town for so long, and I'd never been. You know, I'd heard a few nasty things, about people running around all messed up on drugs, but it wasn't like that at all. It was this nice, clean event. I was bowled over."

After the wobble in 1998, the White Party and the agency that sponsors it clearly have regained their footing. Where they go from here, as the story of the AIDS epidemic and the parties that fund the fight against it unfolds, remains to be seen.

"There is a contradiction inherent in the circuit parties," declares one Miami gay activist who declined to be named. "But both gay-rights and AIDS agencies are desperate for the bucks."

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