Miami's LGBTQ community thrives in Wynwood. Fittingly, the rainbow flags marking the entrance to Wynwood's first-ever gay pride event this weekend looked right at home surrounded by the colorful murals of Miami's arts district. Art and activism were prominently featured at Wynwood Pride, which included an artist showcase of local LGBTQ artists and a space organizers named the "Community Fun Village," where local nonprofits highlighted their work.
Queens, both local and international, took center stage at Wynwood Pride. Brazilian artist Pabllo Vittar, the first drag queen to be nominated for a Grammy Award, headlined Friday night. Drag battles took place throughout the weekend in a boxing ring setup at Miss Toto's Funhouse, and local queens strutted down the catwalk during the Wigwood Invasion. Saturday's performers were anchored by la diva and the queen of reggaeton, Ivy Queen. Introduced as la reina by radio host Enrique Santos, Queen put on a show-stopping performance of her greatest hits. The Puerto Rican artist appeared taken aback by the roar from the crowd when she asked "¿es Puerto Rico aqui?," and lingered on the stage after her performance, noticeably touched by the love from the festival crowd.
But the growing pains of an inaugural event were evident from the start. Wynwood Pride's mobile application still lacked a venue map or completed descriptions as the festival kicked off Friday. Saturday night's performers were running almost an hour behind schedule by the end of the evening. Ivy Queen was initially listed to perform at 11 p.m. but was not introduced to the crowd until 11:50. Catwalk Miami was shuttered early Sunday morning by the police after a brawl and reported assault around 2:30 a.m. Some attendees took to social media to question the large police presence outside the festival, where a line of cop cars were parked all weekend with their flashing lights on.
Wynwood Pride had multiple bars located across the venue, but bartenders signaled they couldn't give out cups of water. The lack of drinking fountains or a free water refill station was worrisome on a weekend with the heat index in the triple figures, although the festival did provide a cooling station where attendees could be sprayed with water. It was so hot Saturday that the ever-fabulous Miss Toto hosted the final drag competition of the evening out of drag. Karina Kay appeared gaunt while performing on the Main Stage in a full-bodied studded armor suit that evening, and the heat perhaps accounts for her subsequent lackluster performance. Furthermore, the lack of recycling available at the Marketplace became glaring after water gushed out from a manhole near the food vendors.
Karen Larrea, cofounder of Hialeah Pride, said growing pains are to be expected for any inaugural event. Larrea and Madeline Fernandez organized Hialeah's first-ever gay pride event in 2018, and Wynwood Pride's event organizers reached out to them for advice ahead of this weekend's festivities. Larrea said she never questioned attending Wynwood Pride, even as controversy swirled around the festival. Prominent local LGBTQ organizations expressed concern that Wynwood Pride was produced by Swarm, suggesting the events agency was trying to make money off the gay community. (Swarm has since created a nonprofit, Wynwood Pride, Inc., and promised to donate at least $2,500 to three local organizations: Pridelines, Astraea, and Survivors' Pathway Organization.) During the festival, drag performer Kunst protested on the streets of Wynwood.
"There's room for everyone," said Larrea. "We need to help each other, not hinder each other."
"Pride began with a riot," said Amol Jethwani, South Florida field organizer for the civil rights organization Equality Florida and a former candidate for Florida's state House of Representatives. "Pride will always be a riot."
June 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots and the birth of the modern gay rights movement. Many artists acknowledged this important milestone in their performances. Queef Latina, creator of Wigwood, performed to "Y'all Better Calm Down," the famous 1973 speech by transgender Latina activist Sylvia Rivera. A veteran of the Stonewall uprising, Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) organization in 1970 alongside fellow Stonewall heroine Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans activist. That same year, the first pride parades were held in major cities across the United States.
Aja, a rapper and RuPaul's Drag Race alum, asked the crowd to "look after their trans brothers and sisters" on Friday, noting the high rate of violence against black trans women in the United States.
"If it weren't for the black and brown trans women, we wouldn't be out here celebrating," Miami drag queen Juanita LaBanjee reminded the crowd on Saturday.
"Pride is a ritual celebration of how far the community has come and a recommitment to do the work that we still need to do," said Jethwani.
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State law protects Floridians today from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, handicap, or marital status, but there is no statewide law protecting members of the LGBTQ community. Jethwani says local nondiscrimination laws protect about 60 percent of the community, but that in many parts of Florida it is still legal to fire, evict, or deny someone service simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
"Pride is a place where we can be comfortable in our own skin, and it's a place where we can give a voice to those who can't around the world as well," said Jose Martinez, a counselor at Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services.
Carmen Carrera, a transgender activist, model, and standout from the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race, summarized the feelings of many when she took to the Main Stage Friday evening. While bedazzled in a white and rainbow leotard, the first of several outfit changes, the night's hostess recounted her response to inquiries about why she was performing at Wynwood Pride amidst the controversy.
"Bitch, because I'm proud as hell," said Carrera.