Advertisements for an event called Wynwood Pride began spreading across social media late last year. By March, a diverse group of major international and local acts — including drag performers Pabllo Vittar, Aja, Miss Toto, and Queef Latina — had been announced as headliners. Now, with the festival just days away, from June 21 through 23, Wynwood Pride has picked up sponsors, thousands of social media followers, and more big-name talent.
But Wednesday, as the organizers hosted a news conference promoting the festival, prominent local LGBTQ organizations including SAVE, South Florida's oldest LGBTQ-rights group, announced they had serious concerns about the event and who stands to profit from it. Noting that the Miami-based event agency Swarm is the producer, they accused the company of trying to make money off the gay community's struggle for acceptance and rights.
"It's really appropriating our culture, appropriating our strife, and trying to make lots of money from it, and that's not what Prides are about," SAVE executive director Tony Lima says. "Most Prides, if not all Prides across the country and around the world, are set up to be fundraisers for services and for work focused on the LGBTQ community. They're not moneymaking agents."
The criticism from the organizations, which include the Unity Coalition, Gay8 Festival, the Aqua Foundation Pride Fort Lauderdale, and Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride, had an immediate effect. At least one entertainer withdrew from Wynwood Pride. Drag performer Florida Man cited discomfort with a for-profit company running a Pride event.
"Yes, it is wonderful that they are doing all the right things when nobody else is doing the right things, but that's not enough, or that shouldn't be enough, for us to totally overlook the fact that a for-profit company does not have to act in the best interests of the community," Florida Man, AKA Walter Latimer, said in a video posted on Instagram. "So we should be very, very skeptical and scared of that."
Anna Margarita Albelo, the sister of Swarm CEO Tony Albelo and one of the founders of Wynwood Pride, pushed back against the outcry during a lengthy interview with New Times. As an out lesbian who has been involved in organizing fundraisers for LGBTQ causes, she says the Wynwood festival is intended to benefit solely the LGBTQ community. Swarm, she insists, will not profit. "We never thought we would have any kind of backlash," she says.
Albelo says Swarm is merely the producer of the event, and her newly organized 501(c)(3), Wynwood Pride, will reap any of the festival's profits. The company and the nonprofit have close ties: Albelo says the festival got its start when two longtime friends and LGBTQ Miamians — Wigwood collaborator José Atencio and Swarm employee Scott Bernardez — had the idea to host a Miami-based Pride event in June for Pride Month. She says they brought the concept to her brother in the hopes Swarm would back it. Her brother told them it was exactly the kind of thing she'd be interested in, and he connected the three.
Over the next few months, Albelo flew into Miami from Los Angeles, where she lives and works as a filmmaker, to plan the event. She says the three cofounders always planned to create a nonprofit to host Wynwood Pride and collect any profits from it, though she claims they don't know whether the event will actually make money. She blames the confusion over the finances and beneficiaries on a lack of information and communication caused by the quick turnaround; the organizers were determined to host the event this year in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
"I think the main thing that has been a problem has been that we are a three-person gang, and we haven't been able to put up all the information and organize the festival and do all this stuff since we announced it," she says.
But the event's critics point out that the 501(c)(3) was not created until March 22 — three months after Wynwood Pride began advertising on Facebook. WynwoodPride.com was registered in late November. And confusion over Swarm's role is understandable: A March 25 release announced the company was partnering with the Wynwood Business Improvement District to host Wynwood Pride, and it quoted Tony Albelo without mentioning Anna Margarita Albelo, Atencio, or Bernardez. There was also no mention of the nonprofit. Meetings with performers have been held at Swarm's offices.
Robin Schwartz, managing director of the Aqua Foundation, says the Wynwood Pride organizers haven't been fully transparent about who stands to benefit from the event. The vast majority of Pride events are hosted by local nonprofit organizations that make grants and donations to LGBTQ advocacy groups, says Schwartz, who helped launch Miami Beach Pride.
"Most people don't dig into the details," Schwartz says. "They're going to go and they're going to think they're doing something good for the community and not realize there's a for-profit component. I don't think they're being completely open."
Albelo's new nonprofit, Wynwood Pride Inc., is registered with the state and lists her as the registered agent. It has no online presence, no publicly available mission statement, and no announced board members, so it will be difficult for the event's attendees to know exactly what they are supporting. Albelo says she regrets this and chalks it up to the time crunch and the fact this is the first nonprofit she's started. She says any money earned during this year's event, which is free but has paid components such as VIP tickets and multiple bars, will be used to put on future editions of Wynwood Pride.
The event is intended to give back to the community, Albelo says. The organizers chose three nonprofit partners: Pridelines, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and Survivor's Pathway. So how will they benefit? Albelo emphasizes that each one is getting "visibility" by being listed on the event's website and promotional materials, and by being highlighted in videos that will play during the festival. There will also be a way to donate directly to the organizations through text messages, and nonprofits are being given booths at the event free of charge.
Additionally, Pridelines will receive 30 percent of the proceeds from one bar at the event. A Wynwood business that hosted a Pride event has already donated 30 percent of the profits to Survivor's Pathway. Wynwood Pride has also committed to donating a minimum of $2,500 to each of the three nonprofits, Albelo says.
"I've been around for 30 years as an out lesbian and activist, and it's the first time I see a Pride and an event share all the communications and visibility and awareness, and find multiple places, multiple ways to raise money and awareness," she says.
From Miss Toto's perspective, the event is doing enough to give back. The former Miami drag queen, who recently relocated to Chicago, says it's always been clear Swarm is behind the event. She says Wynwood Pride is giving a platform to performers who feel overlooked and underrepresented at other local Pride events. At the Wynwood event, she's running an entire area called Miss Toto's Fun House — an opportunity she says is bigger than any she's ever had. If a for-profit company is putting on a Pride festival and some portion of the money goes back to the LGBTQ community, she's comfortable with that.
"Prides in general are not cheap to put on," she says. "You have to get security; you have to get stages — that stuff is not donated. Any Pride that has fees, it's like, you're paying for security — thank you for keeping me safe. If you're putting it back into making the next Pride amazing or pay out performers or pay out security, OK, I'm OK with that too. If you're going to make an event for the LGBT community that is safe and you're paying people, what's the problem?"
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Albelo questions whether some of the pushback is motivated by the threat of a new Pride event. She notes that among the groups critical of Wynwood Pride are the organizations behind other South Florida events, including Pride Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride.
"For me, I want to see a Westchester Pride, a Homestead Pride," she says. "I came into this 100 percent enthusiastic, like I am whenever I see anything new — a new party, a new bar, a new anything."
But Pride Fort Lauderdale president Miik Martorell says that's not what it's about. The problem, he says, is that a for-profit company appears to have built a moneymaking event off the word "Pride" and then worked backward to build a nonprofit with little transparency. The LGBTQ community is generally excited to have an event that gives visibility to performers and attendees, and if it were branded under a different name, it would be celebrated, he says.
"People know what Pride is about," Martorell says. "It's a little disingenuous to use the name and forget the meaning. So it's not at all about whether they come into the market or not. I believe the more Prides, the better."