The Ten Most Memorable Moments in Miami's Gay History

The Ten Most Memorable Moments in Miami's Gay History
© Felix Becerra, Miami Beach Gay Pride / Flickr CC

In most cities, gay pride parades have a long history tied to decades of activism and celebration. In Miami, locals have been marching on Ocean Drive only since 2009. Although the procession is a recently adopted South Florida tradition, the gay community has always been an active part of the cultural melting pot. From 1977's Save Our Children campaign to today's weekly Sunday drag brunches, the LGBT community has come a long way, so there's plenty to celebrate. 

Spring ushers in not only a change in the weather but also the Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival and annual parade, returning for the eighth year. Last year's festivities attracted more than 100,000 attendees over three days, and nothing less is expected this year. Grand marshal is radio host and DJ Elvis Duran. 

In anticipation of the fest this weekend, New Times presents the ten most memorable moments in Miami's gay history:

10. Club Baths Opens (1974)
John W. Campbell opened the Miami branch of the Club Baths more than 40 years ago. The gay bathhouse was a place where men could enjoy typical spa amenities such as saunas and steambaths. Campbell was an active member of the Mattachine Society, an early gay activist movement during the repressive 1950s and early '60s. He started the first Club Baths in 1965 by purchasing and remodeling a Finnish bathhouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The success quickly spawned other locations, and though they all shuttered in the early '90s, plenty of modern-day bathhouses claim Club Baths heritage. 

9. A Place to Congregate (1970)
Christ Metropolitan Church was founded as a congregation for gay and lesbian Christians in Miami.  

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower (right) at the 2009 Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade on Ocean Drive.
Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower (right) at the 2009 Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade on Ocean Drive.
Courtesy of Miami Beach Gay Pride / Flickr CC

8. Miami's First Gay Pride Parade (2009)
Miami Beach's first Gay Pride Parade, established by Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower in collaboration with the Miami Beach Gay Business Development Council, drew an estimated 15,000 spectators. Now it attracts out crowds greater than 130,000. 

7. The Purple Pamphlet (1964) 
A Florida legislative committee led by Sen. Charley Johns published the pamphlet "Homosexuality and Citizenship," also known as the "Purple Pamphlet." The document attempted to portray gays and lesbians as disease carriers worse than child molesters. It was part of a larger effort to identify closeted queer folks in schools, universities, and government jobs. Luckily, the local reaction to Johns' letter was swift. Dade County officials threatened legal action against the Florida attorney general's forced distribution of the Purple Pamphlet.

A sign proclaims love for the Vietnamese while combining the flags of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (South-Viet Cong) during protests against the Republican Convention in Miami, Florida, August 21-23, 1972.
A sign proclaims love for the Vietnamese while combining the flags of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (South-Viet Cong) during protests against the Republican Convention in Miami, Florida, August 21-23, 1972.
Courtesy of Washington Area Spark / Flickr CC

6. Democratic National Convention (1972) 
The Democratic and Republican national conventions were both held in Miami in 1972. The DNC featured the first public speech concerning gay rights by openly gay San Francisco activist Jim Foster. The RNC, on the other hand, was met with extensive antiwar protests, women's marches, and shows of solidarity from the gay-rights movement.
  5. Adoption Rights Extended to Gay Parents (2010)
In 1997, thanks to the success of the Save Our Children campaign, the Florida Legislature passed a law prohibiting gay adoption. But in 2010, that law was overturned by the courts in In re: Gill . The ruling was in reference to a case brought forth by Martin Gill, an openly gay man who petitioned the court to adopt two boys he and his partner had been raising since 2004. 

4. Nondiscrimination Ordinance Passes (1977)
Miami became one of almost 40 cities in the nation to pass nondiscrimination ordinances against gays and lesbians.

The Save Our Children campaign sparked national outrage in "gayborhoods" across the nation.
The Save Our Children campaign sparked national outrage in "gayborhoods" across the nation.
Courtesy of Markus Ziller / Flickr CC

3. Save Our Children (1977)
Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign overturned a law prohibiting workplace and housing discrimination against gay men and women. As a former Ms. Oklahoma, chart-topping singer, and brand spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, Bryant became the face of the conservative antigay movement, with the likes of Jerry Falwell flying in from out of state to aid the repeal efforts. The protections were eventually reinstated in 1998, thanks to the organizing efforts of Save Dade and its founder, Damien Pardo. 

The Versace Mansion, AKA Casa CasuarinaEXPAND
The Versace Mansion, AKA Casa Casuarina
Courtesy of JH Images.co.uk / Flickr CC

2. Versace in Miami (1992-1997)
Fashion designer Gianni Versace relocated to Casa Casuarina, setting off a queer renaissance in South Beach. The newly converted 1930s apartment building became a symbol for the city's gay-led revival. Left ravaged by the drug wars of the '80s, a wilting senior population, and a fleeting economy, SoBe became a low-rent haven for creatives and artists from around the nation. Bars began popping up on every corner, most notably Warsaw (currently Jerry’s Famous Deli), Paragon (on Washington Avenue), and Salvation (on West Avenue).

Barely five years after he moved to Miami Beach, Versace was murdered on the front steps of his iconic Ocean Drive mansion. His violent death sent shockwaves across the community, bringing to a close the decades-long queer boom that began in the late '80s. Drawn by cheaper, more casual beachfront living, much of the town’s graying gay demographic moved to Fort Lauderdale, taking the clubs, stores, and bars with them. 

Upcoming Events

1. Florida Legalizes Gay Marriage (2015)
In Brenner v. Scott, a U.S. District Court ruled that Florida's 2008 law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Gay marriage has been legal in the state since January 6, 2015, when the court's temporary injunction took effect. 

Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival
Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, at various locations in Miami. A large parade will take place Sunday beginning at noon along Ocean Drive. Visit miamibeachgaypride.com


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