By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Progressive Fort Lauderdale has been proudly celebrating and courting the LGBTQ community for decades, recently incorporating transgender models into its mainstream tourism ads.
The diverse and cosmopolitan city benefits from what Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) dubbed the Big Gay Agenda: “smart infrastructure, smart growth and a side of fairness and equity for all.”
Fort Lauderdale, the county seat of Broward County, was one of the first to legalize protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and its school district was among the first to support LGBTQ History Month in October.
Welcoming more than 1.1 million LGBTQ visitors a year, Greater Fort Lauderdale comes by its inclusiveness naturally. The city claims one of the country’s highest concentrations of same-sex couples, as does its neighboring gayborhood, Wilton Manors. Together, they offer more than 200 gay-owned hotels, bars, clubs, restaurants and shops. Rainbow flags and LGBTQ couples holding hands seem as common as waves along the beach.
“I was kind of expecting a gay Pleasantville,” said gay vlogger Ravi Roth, 33, visiting from New York. “I knew this was going to be a gay destination mecca – that I was going to have fun, it was going to be a good time – but I had no idea how diverse this city is. Over 100 languages are spoken here … and it’s celebrated. The people make the city. This is what it’s like when a city is opening the umbrella for inclusivity.”
Here are seven reasons why Florida’s gay capital is now an essential destination for LGBTQ travelers.
1. Welcoming beaches
Fort Lauderdale’s beaches stretch for two miles, but Sebastian Street Beach is considered the lively epicenter for LGBTQ sun seekers. Look for the Sebastian Street signpost across from the Ritz-Carlton. For a low-key option, Terramar Street Beach at Terramar Street and A1A is a quieter spot in the sun.
2. Places to stay
There’s an abundance of fabulous places to stay, from bed-and-breakfast hideaways like the all-male, clothing-optional Pineapple Point Guesthouse & Resort to high-end retreats like the luxurious Grand Resort & Spa, which has been ranked on the Travel Channel’s coveted international list of “Best All-Inclusive Resorts” and offers a courtyard for nude sunbathing.
3. The club scene
There are more than 30 gay bars and dance clubs between Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors. The pocket-size Ramrod is the oldest gay, leather-fetish bar in the city, known for its theme nights and wild contests. Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar is a longtime favorite for its long happy hours and danceable beats. The Manor is a chandelier-laden, gay-and-lesbian nightclub with multiple dance floors and lounges.
4. Sunday Fundays
Open-air Rosie’s Bar & Grill is a longtime favorite for lively Sunday brunches with DJs and bottomless mimosas. Flip Flops Dockside Eatery hosts a monthly “T Dance” on the first Sunday of every month. Sunday is Studio 54 Night at Hunters nightclub.
5. There’s a rainbow of shopping and eating options
Las Olas Boulevard and Wilton Drive (“The Drive”) are walkable main streets bursting with gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses, including late-night Sushi Song, featuring Gaysha new world sushi, to Out of the Closet, a funky thrift store where it’s not impossible to find size 11 high heels.
6. Respect for LGBTQ history
The Stonewall National Museum & Archives, known as the “LGBTQ community’s Smithsonian” since opening in 1974, is the largest gay library and archive in the United States. Attracting 8,000 visitors a year, the gallery showcases rotating exhibits from its collection, which includes actor Billy Porter’s red boots from the musical “Kinky Boots,” an original printing of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s sex research, and autographed orange pants from the groundbreaking Showtime TV series, “Queer as Folk.” The first museum dedicated to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the World AIDS Museum, also is here, showcasing sections from the AIDS Quilt, Keith Haring art and a basketball jersey once worn by Magic Johnson, who attended the museum’s dedication ceremony in 2013.
7. There’s always a party
Pride Fort Lauderdale takes place over a week in October with parties, food festivals and special events, culminating in a two-day blowout weekend. Wilton Manors’ Stonewall Pride Parade and Festival is in June, with a marketplace, floats and multiple concert stages. OutShine GLBT Film Festival is South Florida’s premiere showcase for LGBTQ films, producing a large-scale festival in Miami in April and Fort Lauderdale in October. The Southern Comfort Transgender Conference, the largest of its kind in North America, welcomes people from across the transgender spectrum every September with authors’ lectures, vendors, entertainers and workshops.