Under the Stars

At White Dreams, a party thrown by Care Resource at the Miami Seaquarium last Friday, the men were so attractive it was hard to tell who stood out. Though everyone was welcome at this party, it's clear that the majority of them were men of a certain ilk. Muscular, well-groomed, Caucasian, wearing tight shirts, jeans, and sneakers -- accompanied by the occasional female friend or lesbian couple -- they walked slowly and deliberately, like great, purring lions, into the large grass clearing, where enormous pinwheels of lights were projected onto trees and a nearby dome.

Over on the dance floor, a metal framework of lights glowed in a rainbow of colors onto the innumerable men who had stripped off their tight T-shirts and tucked them into their back pockets or waistbands. They looked like hard candies as they danced pec-to-pec, sweating onto and against one another, smiling. Next to the dance floor, a cluster of sofas covered in white linen invited the wayward body to sit. Placed close to the neighboring Biscayne Bay, this area was a place to observe the stars, the Miami lights that shone across the bay, and the dance floor. It was an absolutely ideal setting.

While on one of the couches, I met a handful of gay men who were friendly and talkative. The men all agreed that the party is one of the best of the year; the music is good, the people are gorgeous, and the mood is positive. But on the tips of all their tongues were the words "drugs" and "sex." It is understood by many that drug use -- specifically Ecstasy, crystal meth, "Special K," and GHB -- and the unsafe sex that often results from it is not uncommon among the men who attend these large AIDS fundraisers, known as "circuit parties."

Still it didn't seem like anyone was self-destructing here. All the guests were polite. The men looked vibrant and gloriously happy. On a night with perfect weather, they nodded their bodies to the upbeat house/techno hybrid popular with gay dance clubs; it's music of unrelenting optimism that cries out lyrics of freedom and triumph.

This may seems ironic in light of the facts reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just weeks prior; HIV rates for gay and bisexual men in the United States have risen seventeen percent in the last three years. Also on the rise are HIV infections in the African-American and Hispanic communities and among women ages 16-25. Proceeds from the White Party events go to Care Resource, a Miami-based agency that provides HIV-related services for Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which have the first and third-highest AIDS rates in the country, respectively. The agency's caseload increased from 6400 to 11,000 over the past year. Given this, the White Party is just as important today as when it began in 1984.

Next to the official White Party, White Dreams is the biggest gathering of White Party 2003, a weeklong fundraiser comprising a dozen separate events that employ the talents of a small army of DJs, chefs, drag queens, and dancers. (Miami New Times was one of several co-sponsors for the events.) Though parties have been added through the years, the mainstay of the week is still the official party, an elegant all-white, all-out fete that was held at the Vizcaya mansion in Miami last Sunday.

This year's theme was "Great Gatsby." Dressed as flappers or society ladies with white gloves and white-brimmed hats, drag queens greeted the guests on their way into the house; costumes were limited to anything white and eccentric. The VIP guests, who paid $225, were allowed to remain in the parlor, which was partitioned off by red velvet ropes and monitored by White Party staff. There, a piano played while guests munched on food from tables decorated by white linen tablecloths; strings of pearly white baubles; white votive candles; and vases of white lilies, roses, and orchids. A small mob ensued when three-fifths of the Fab Five from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy -- Carson Kressley, Kyan Douglas, and Thom Filicia -- arrived, bringing word of their upcoming holiday reunion special, on which they revisit their old charges. Kressley dubbed the night "a great time to wear white after Labor Day."

Guests who paid the $150 entrance fee were directed around the VIP area and outside, where the air was clear and cool. Because of the event's cost, these partiers were mostly twentysomethings and older, including everything from a bare-chested man with a scepter and a cape over his shoulders to a bald-headed man with a spritzer and a sweater over his shoulders. On the main deck behind the house, overlooking Biscayne Bay, DJ Manny Lehman spun records on an elevated stage alongside a bar manned by the muscular, half-naked men of Cupids Cabaret Miami. Though there were scantily clad men serving drinks, it was an absolutely proper affair. Unlike White Dreams, the White Party was a dress-to-impress gala.

In the side garden, where trees and bushes glittered with strings of lights, guests wandered free to pick at the rows of tables catered by local restaurants. Like any other big event, friends stayed with their friends and dates for most of the early hours, talking and drinking under the open sky.

Later that night, Care Resource executive director Rick Siclari offered his retort to those who would criticize the agency for hosting a circuit party to fight HIV/AIDS. "First of all, I don't know of any event of this magnitude that can control people's behavior," he said. "The agency is clear on our no-drug policy. People get pulled aside and even removed. We haven't had a major drug-related issue in quite some time." Though white linen is a far cry from hospital linen, the fundraiser does the job it intends to do -- it raises money for a dangerously growing population.

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Marli Guzzetta