Questioning South Beach’s Status as a Gay Mecca?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 13, 2010

A rash of anti-gay violence on South Florida--centered in South Beach, long reputed to be a gay social and cultural nexus--has raised questions about just how friendly a place the area is now.

A Jan. 13 article at the Miami New Times delves into the story in detail, but the headline sums it up: "Gays leave unfriendly South Beach for Fort Lauderdale." The main factors behind the purported shift: higher rents, shifting demographics, the closing of gay businesses, and--according to Florida GLBT equality group--inflammatory rhetoric from the likes of former Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle and anti-gay groups like Florida4Marriage that has drawn national attention.

The Miami New Times article said that Miami Beach had seen three-quarters of the county's reported hate crimes in the last year, and profiled a handful of examples, from an openly gay man being jumped by a group of men and beaten in an alley, to a gay man being stripped, hogtied, and murdered in his own apartment by two young men who then removed some of their victim's property from his home. In a two-month span alone, three incidents of harassment or violence took place; transgendered people and drag queens now feel unsafe.

The article traced the transformation of Miami Beach from a backwater to a hotspot for fashion and glamor--and the gay talent that generated white-hot buzz. The area's natural beauty dovetailed with the cultural energy that lit up Miami Beach in the 1980s and 1990s, with a peak moment coming in the form of MTV's show The Real World, which set one season in Miami Beach and gave the town national cachet. But then high-profile attacks--including the 1997 murder of gay designer Gianni Versace--began to darken the town's once-bright appeal to gays. Rents, meantime, had soared; as gays began to leave, the article said, other elements took their place. The area became less gay-friendly; more gays left.

The president of the gay Latino group Unity Coalition, Herb Sosa, spoke out against anti-gay violence in Miami beach on World AIDS Day, reported the Miami New Ties in a Dec. 2 article. Though state law does extend bias crime protections to GLBTs, Sosa opined that, "The laws need to be stricter," and too-strict evidentiary requirements need to be loosened. "The [Miami Beach Department's] numbers [of incidents regarded as hate crimes] are very different than ours, and that's a problem."

Added Sosa, "These things shouldn't happen anywhere. And they certainly shouldn't happen here."

Local equality activists like Sosa have spoken out for years now against the escalating anti-gay violence in South Florida. "There seems to be an atmosphere of intolerance being created in South Florida," a February, 2008 news release from Florida LGBT equality group Fight OUT Loud read. "We at Fight OUT Loud cannot help but see the connection between the virulent anti-gay rhetoric of people like Jim Naugle and the Florida4Marriage group and wonder if their continued demonization of the LGBT community is leading to this increase in anti-gay violence.

"The dangerous, hate-filled words of these people have inflamed violence against innocent members of our community and must not go unchallenged," continued the release, which was posted in its entirety at the blog of gay Miami Herald reporter Steve Rothaus. "We are outraged that this hatred and violence is causing LGBT people to live in fear and feel terrorized by the threat of violence for simply being who they are. This is unacceptable," the release went on.

"No one deserves to be beaten or murdered for who they are. Fight OUT Loud will not let these incidents go unnoticed. We call on EVERY official from every level of government to speak out and say we will not tolerate this violence in our community."

Meantime, a city less than 30 miles away, took on some of the buzz and glamor that Miami Beach had lost. In Fort Lauderdale, where former mayor Jim Naugle created a stir and became a right-wing media darling three years ago by claiming that automated "robo-toilet" style restroom facilities would reduce public sex by gay men, the climate is considerably more friendly toward gays, and the cost of living is much more reasonable, the Miami New Times reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.