It’s easy to see why Florida is a draw for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender events. There’s a sense of freedom to the beaches, the warm weather and the tropical landscape – certainly a draw for people of all orientations, yes, but especially appealing to a community looking for a sense of belonging and acceptance.
“Florida is excitement, it’s sunshine, happiness, relaxation… and all really hot-looking people,” said Carrie West, President of the GaYBOR District Coalition in Tampa’s Ybor City. “It’s not just Key West and South Beach anymore. It’s all parts of Florida.”
Year-round, gay tourists from all over the world come to Florida to enjoy everything from parades to film festivals to rodeo events catering to the LGBT community. Here are some of the most well-known events held in winter, spring, summer and fall.
Pride Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale (February): Held for nearly for decades, this is a well-run and well-attended (some regard it as the largest pride event in the state) week-long event held in both indoor and outdoor spaces around at the War Memorial Auditorium and Holiday Park. Local and national bands entertain those at the outdoor market featuring hundreds of vendors, an array of food and cocktail booths and a large dance floor. The famous Aids Memorial Quilt typically makes an appearance at Pride South Florida – a must-see for those who have not viewed this powerful reminder of the AIDS pandemic up close.
Winter Party Festival, Miami Beach (late Februeary-early March): The prettiest people seem to turn up for this glamorous six-day party, which takes place during the cooler months in Florida but gets fairly steamy at night. Some of the world’s top DJs are known to perform here under towering tents and streaming lights, and surrounding clubs piggyback the event with special promotions. While it’s a heavily male crowd, the event also features some special events that cater solely to women.
PrideFest of the Palm Beaches, Lake Worth (late March): For a more low-key and family-friendly LGBT festival, PrideFest spreads throughout the Lake Worth and Treasure Coast community with not only a parade, vendors and entertainment but a sense of welcoming among the area’s restaurants and businesses. A feel-good event for sure; even the Mayor of Lake Worth typically gets involved by raising the Pride flag at City Hall each year.
Miami Beach Gay Pride, Miami Beach (early- to mid-April): There’s something for everyone packed into this huge two-day event in lovely Miami Beach. Young and old alike can find live bands that suit their tastes, families can enjoy parade festivities and kid-friendly activities and the party crowd can let loose at a rooftop bar dance party or other evening events. And of course, there are always the bustling beach parties that happen nonstop throughout the weekend.
Sunshine Stampede Gay Rodeo, Davie (April): Sponsored by the Florida Gay Rodeo Association, the Sunshine Stampede caters to the country western LGBT crowd and is more than just a two-day rodeo for cowboys and cowgirls. The event also draws thousands who enjoy the kickoff mixer party and a night of line-dancing, as well as the bull riding, barrel racing, calf roping and other competitive categories. There’s even a “rodeo school” for beginners.
Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Miami (late April-early May): While the focus of this festival is the dozens of documentaries and short films chronicling the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people, some come just for the fancy soirees. Film enthusiasts can meet directors and cast members while they wine and dine at cocktail receptions and VIP parties held around the event.
BeachBear Weekend, Fort Lauderdale (May): One of South Florida’s newest events, the BeachBear patterns after California’s LazyBear Weekend and caters to the more rugged, outdoorsy types. Expect to see a lot of bearded, burly men and hairy chests filling the beaches, riding shuttles to and fro and taking advantage of special discounts at area bars and businesses. Proceeds from the sponsored events benefit the Pride Center, which supports the local LGBT community.
Gay Memorial Day Weekend, Pensacola (late May): This is a four-day Memorial Day weekend that never sleeps. Between the special theme parties for both men and women, the drag bingo, the beach parties, the daytime food vendors and the late-night dancing, this is a memorable experience that draws people of all races and ages to the Florida Panhandle – a refreshing change of scenery from the more popular South Florida.
Gay Days Orlando (first weekend in June): What began in 1991 as an unofficial weekend where LGBT visitors show up at Disney World and wear red has blossomed into one of the world’s most popular and well-known weekends for gay and lesbian tourist. “We were voted the number one global destination in 2013, which we’re excited about,” said Chris Alexander-Manley, President of Gay Days, Inc. “It helps that we’re in one of the top tourist destinations in the world.” The weekend’s appeal spans all ages and applies to all of Orlando’s theme parks.
St. Pete Pride, St. Petersburg (late June): This humongous festival draws around 100,000 marchers to the parade in downtown St. Petersburg's Historic Grand Central District, as well as hundreds of thousands of visitors enjoying the area’s clubs and beaches. As an added bonus this year, the parade has been moved to nighttime rather than its usual mid-day launch, giving attendees a relief from the heat and giving visitors more time to relax at BBQs, tailgates and parties during the dayl.
Tropical Heat, Key West (mid-August): Held in the thick of summer, this event is possibly the hottest – both figuratively and literally – event in Florida. All events are male-oriented and most are clothing optional, including the morning yoga, the pool parties, the happy hours and the charity fundraiser parties. Not for the timid! This event draws men from all over the world and seems to grow in size every year. http://www.tropicalheatkw.com/
Key West Womenfest, Key West (September): Womenfest is the female answer to Tropical Heat, though a lot less risqué. This week of fun includes watersports, hot tub parties, dancing, comedy shows, happy hours, trolley tours and other outings. For those looking for romance, there are plenty of mixers and matchmaking activities – in 2013, the “speed meeting” event at Pearl’s Patio Bar & Grill was a hit.
Come Out With Pride, Orlando (late September-early October): An entertaining and exciting event for both LGBT and non-LGBT visitors alike, Come Out With Pride – also known as Orlando Pride – takes over downtown and other areas for a week. With big-name sponsors such as Macy’s and Universal Studios, the parade and its colorful costumes and elaborate floats is something to behold, and the fireworks show is one of the best you’ll see outside of July 4th.
Tampa Gay and Lesbian Film Fest, Tampa (October): The Tampa Bay Business Guild, the Bay Area Human Rights Coalition, and the Tampa Bay Gay Men’s Chorus come together to host this film festival, screened at the historic Tampa Theatre. While a few parties and galas surround the event, it is centered mainly on film and the arts, attracting a more cerebral crowd.
Fantasy Fest, Key West (late October): Fantasy Fest is like Comic Con meets gay pride, with a different theme for each year – superheroes, anime characters, cartoons. Don’t skimp on your costumes and makeup for this one and bring your camera! Duval Street converts to a mile-long parade and street festival of fantasy and frivolity, and prizes are awarded to the most convincing characters.
White Party Week, Miami Beach (late November): As the world’s biggest LGBT holiday party, White Party Week’s notoriety has grown over the last three decades to extend adults of all orientations. Multiple parties take place over several days, ranging from classy and elegant to hot and high-energy, and the official Saturday night White Party event is the oldest and largest HIV fundraiser in the country.
Santa Speedo Run Tampa Bay, Tampa/Ybor City (December – World AIDS Day) – Joining this light-hearted, Christmas-themed run at Centennial Park is a good excuse to check out Ybor City’s holiday decorations, courtesy of the GaYBOR District, which began gaining ground years ago and helped shape the area’s business and nightclub scene. Proceeds from the run benefit Brighter Seasons for Children and AIDS Service Association of Pinellas, which serves the Tampa Bay region.