By Emily Nipps

Check out one just one of the coastline parades or the sunny parades and it’s easy to see why Florida is a mecca for LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ community. Here are some of the most well-known events held in winter, spring, summer and fall.

BearSurrection, Fort Lauderdale (February)

This event patterns itself 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 LGBTQ community. www.facebook.com/bearsurrection/

Pride South Florida, Fort Lauderdale (early March)

Held for nearly for decades running, 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. pridefortlauderdale.org/

Winter Party Festival, Miami Beach (late February, 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. www.winterparty.com

Palm Beach Pride, Lake Worth (late March)

For a more low-key and family-friendly LGBTQ 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.  www.thepalmbeaches.com/top-event/palm-beach-pride

Outshine 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. outshinefilm.com/about

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. www.gaytravel4u.com/event/pensacola-beach-memorial-day-weekend-gay-party

Gay Days Orlando (first weekend in June)

What began in 1991 as an unofficial weekend where LGBTQ 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.  www.gaydays.com/

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.  gaykeywestfl.com/tropical-heat/

Miami Beach Gay Pride, Miami Beach (September)

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. www.miamibeachgaypride.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. gaykeywestfl.com/womenfest/

Come Out With Pride, Orlando (late September, early October)

An entertaining and exciting event for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ 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.  comeoutwithpride.com/

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. http://www.tiglff.com/

St. Pete Pride, St. Petersburg (fall and winter)

This organization hosts a slew of events, including the Red and Green Party in December; the Transgender Film Fest in November; and Frankenpride, a Halloween-themed street bash in October. www.stpetepride.com/

 Fantasy Fest is like Comic Con meets gay pride, with a different theme for each year – superheroes, anime characters, cartoons.
-Rob Neal

 

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. www.fantasyfest.com/

White Party Week, Miami Beach (late November)

As the world’s biggest LGBTQ 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. www.gayout.com/white-party-week-miami   

Places to Remember