SAVE’s Business Equality Network promotes workplace uniformity

SAVE executive director Tony Lima and Steve Adkins, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. (Photo courtesy of SAVE).

Group’s new series of luncheons uniting leaders who say discrimination is bad for business

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

SAVE, a local human rights group and advocate for the LGBT community, recently hosted the first of a new series of lunch and learn events in support of its Business Equality Network in Miami. SAVE’s Business Equality Network is a group of South Florida businesses that are taking a stand and saying that discrimination is bad for business.

“We want the most qualified workers here in the state, regardless of who they are,” said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE. “We stand behind equality for all, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The values of equality are good for business and creates an environment of fairness and inclusion, which helps our businesses thrive.”

The first Business Equality Network luncheon took place April 4 at El Novillo restaurant in Miami. Attendees were welcomed by Lima and City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, an ally of the local LGBT community. In 2016, SAVE joined forces with Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo and marketing executive Mike Valdez-Fauli to inaugurate the Business Equality Network and recruit local businesses in favor of workplace equality. Businesses and organizations who have joined the network include Lyft, Uber, IKEA, SunTrust, Magic City Casino and Ball & Chain.

“We’ve seen our Business Equality Network grow from just a handful of small business owners to well over 200 businesses, large and small over the last two years,” Lima said. “We hope our luncheons will foster a place for these like-minded business leaders to meet and network with one another and learn why equality is good for business.”

SAVE executive director Tony Lima, left, pictured with City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, center. (Photo courtesy of SAVE).

Right now in Florida, it’s legal to discriminate against LGBT people. Lima says that’s “wrong and it’s costing us.” According to a 2016 study by Dr. Dale Brill of Think Spot, Florida could boost its economic output by $5.46 billion over 10 years if it was more LGBT inclusive. By attracting millennials and the creative class, Florida could generate an additional $3.91 billion in personal income and $3.47 billion in disposable income in 10 years.

“In many parts of Florida, people can be fired from their jobs just for being gay or transgender. We are taking a stand and saying that Florida should be open for business to everyone,” said Bren Pantilione, former campaign manager for SAVE. “If we want to live in a Florida that grows by attracting the very best talent, has a strong economy and is a vibrant place to live, then we must celebrate, respect and protect everyone who works, lives and plays in our great state.”

Currently, there is no non-discrimination law in Florida that protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment. Lima says non-discrimination policies would help business owners recruit and retain top talent and help businesses create a welcoming environment for customers and clients.

“Passing this type of legislation would ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, help Florida companies attract the best and brightest employees and enhance the state’s reputation as an open and inclusive world business center,” Lima said. “We support any proposal that furthers full equality for all Floridians.”

SAVE’s Business Equality Network luncheon series runs in partnership with the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Florida International University, Greater Miami Society for Human Resource Management, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Career X Change and Influence Communications. The next luncheon is slated to take place Wednesday, May 2 at FIU’s south campus.

Business owners who wish to sign onto the Business Equality Network can visit www.save.lgbt/business_equality_network. For more information, email Tommy Gomez at tommy@save.lgbt.

SAVE’s first Business Equality Network luncheon took place April 4 at El Novillo restaurant in Miami. (Photo courtesy of SAVE).

Flaming Classics creation combines queer poetry, performance and cinema

Event on April 13 pays homage to Club Jewel Box, one of Miami’s first queer clubs, at O, Miami Poetry Festival

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

“Club Jewel Box,” a one-night only experience celebrating queer culture and expression, will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, April 13 at the The Jewel Box at the National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., in downtown Miami.

As part of the O, Miami Poetry Festival, the event is a reclamation of queer spaces that have disappeared in Miami, combining queer avant-garde cinema with poetry and performance. “Club Jewel Box” pays homage to a 1940s Miami club of the same name, which was one of the city’s earliest queer clubs run by Danny Brown and Doc Brenner from 1946 to 1952. The original Club Jewel Box operated alongside the nationally touring Jewel Box Revue, featuring drag queens and kings in a nightclub show.

Friday’s event will present six films punctuated with poetry, read by local poets from Miami and feature performance components from local drag entertainers, including King Femme, Ded Cooter, Kunst and Jupiter Velvet, among others. The films are: “Blow Job” (Andy Warhol, 1963); “Christmas on Earth” (Barbara Rubin, 1963); “Fireworks” (Kenneth Anger, 1947); “Looking for Langston” (Isaac Julien, 1989); “Mano Destra” (Cleo Uebelmann, 1986); and “Pink Narcissus” (James Bidgood, 1971).

“Club Jewel Box” is the brainchild of Trae DeLellis and Juan Barquin, the curators of Flaming Classics, a film series pairing feature films with live work by local performance artists. Each event, based at the Bill Cosford Cinema, includes an introduction, a screening and a tailored live performance. When the duo started to plan Flaming Classics as a series, DeLellis said they were “adamant that it have a kind of disrespect of categories and genres.” Instead, they wanted it to showcase the variety of a queer perspective and audience.

DeLellis and Barquin said they had always had in mind to implement more experimental and avant-garde material at Flaming Classics, but they didn’t know when it would be the right time or place. When the partners took notice of the O, Miami call for proposals, having attended their events for years, they decided to create an event around experimental queer cinema and poetry and that’s how “Club Jewel Box” was born.

“We finally put it together that many of the experimental films we had been considering [at Flaming Classics] had a kind of poetic essence to them,” DeLellis said. “These films are very much about mood, themes of desire, the relationship between restraint and excess, but most importantly about expressing something that is about feeling. I think in that way, poetry is also a format that attempts to verbalize non-verbal feelings.”

Both Flaming Classics and O, Miami are Knight Arts Challenge award winners. As a result of that, DeLellis and and Barquin say they were “ecstatic to have O, Miami — a fellow winner — accept and collaborate on the project.”

“We’ve watched as [O, Miami] has delivered on their mission statement, solidifying and expanding that mission each year,” DeLellis said. “Through them, we have been able to connect with the National YoungArts Foundation and secured one of Miami’s most beautiful buildings, The Jewel Box, as a venue for the evening.”

DeLellis says “Club Jewel Box” is an event that wouldn’t be possible without the resources and aid of O, Miami, YoungArts and others like Obsolete Media Miami, who is helping with the projection; Claire Grossman and Jose Villar-Portela at Reading Queer, who are working on poetry selections and performances; and the entertainers who are crafting special performances for after the films. Friday’s event is open to attendees age 18 and over due to sexual content. Cocktails will be provided by Concrete Brewery and Tito’s Homemade Vodka for attendees age 21 and up.

“We do a call for festival projects every fall, asking for ideas for how poetry can reach more people in Miami,” said Scott Cunningham, executive director of O, Miami. “This year, we received around 300, and we were thrilled to receive one from Flaming Classics.”

O, Miami’s mission to expose every citizen in Miami-Dade County to a poem in April. DeLellis said one of his and Barquin’s goals is to build off that mission and expose people to queer culture and history in some way through “Club Jewel Box” and all other Flaming Classics events. He adds it’s also “very important to promote and create new queer spaces” because he feels there is now “a sense that queer spaces, among other safe spaces for minorities, are in danger.”

“We were inspired by one of Miami’s earliest queer spaces, the original Club Jewel Box, and their traveling show the Jewel Box Revue, which featured male and female impersonation,” DeLellis said. “It’s so exciting to celebrate that heritage and reimagine the past in a very contemporary way.”

After viewing some footage from The Wolfson Archive that depicted the police raids of queer spaces in the past, DeLellis says he and Barquin decided to nickname their event a “pervert roundup.” Pervert roundups were when police would invade queer spaces and arrest anyone in the space.

“With ‘Club Jewel Box,’ we wanted to reappropriate that concept of a ‘pervert roundup’ as a positive,” DeLellis said. “Instead of shame, it’s a proud celebration of queer culture and a choice to embrace the label, ‘pervert.’”

DeLellis said they will have select images from the old Jewel Box on display for people to see. The night will be documented by photographers and Sooperkool videographers to “preserve this for Miami’s queer history.”

“We definitely want the event to reflect the queer past, present and future of Miami,” DeLellis said. “With ‘Club Jewel Box,’ we want to expose everyone to something they may not have experienced before.”

DeLellis says Flaming Classics is about experiencing something new or re-experiencing something in a new context or with a new community. While planning, he and Barquin are constantly asking each other if “we’ve seen this or that.”

“It’s so easy to limit the LGBTQ experience, both by mainstream culture and even within our own community,” DeLellis said. “[At Flaming Classics], we are proudly presenting queer content and themes, but the series has always been about inclusion of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ individuals. That is one of the things we like about the label, queer. It really starts to encompass so many different types of people and perspectives that eventually you realize that being ‘non-queer’ is the minority.”

Flaming Classics is currently finalizing its May series, which will be centered around queer films dealing with “mommy issues” in honor of Mother’s Day. Their June series will feature a selection of four queer films connected to Florida in time for Pride Month and Miami Film Month. Called Florida Focus, the series is supported by the Florida Humanities Council.

While there are other large scale projects in the works similar to “Club Jewel Box” for the future, DeLellis says he and Barquin enjoy the uniqueness of each Flaming Classics event.

“One of our favorite parts of Flaming Classics is that by pairing a film with a performance, it becomes difficult to repeat the events. They are always defined by the performer and the audience, which is an energy that is in constant flux,” DeLellis said. “This version of ‘Club Jewel Box’ will definitely be a one-time event, but we’d certainly be open to recreating the concept with new films and performers. We like sequels, as long as they are thought out and add something special.”

Gay Vista Social Club, Creative Male team up for underwear and swim fashion show

Photo courtesy of John Torres

Boys, speedos and free cocktails on Thursday, March 29

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

The Gay Vista Social Club is holding their second annual fashion show called FUSS-The Fashion Underwear Swim Show at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 29 to premiere the new looks of the Creative Male Spring Collections — just in time for Miami Beach Gay Pride.

The night will kick off with complimentary themed vodka cocktails such as “What the FUSS?” And “Shut the FUSS Up,” provided by Creative Male at its store at 3227 NE Second Ave. in Midtown. Then, GVSC models will strut their stuff through the store, showcasing the latest Spring trends ready to wear at Pride, presented in three categories: Fashion, Underwear and Swimwear. The event serves as both a GVSC Logo Apparel and Membership Community Partner support shopping event. When customers spend $100 or more, they will receive a free pair of logo swim shorts or a sleeveless shirt tank. Quantities are limited to first come, first serve.

Gay Vista Social Club started out as a group of gay 20-somethings looking to interact with other people in their age bracket that didn’t involve the nightclub or bar life scene. The club has more than 800 members and has grown to serve all age groups as a newly-recognized 501c7 nonprofit organization consisting of a board, leadership council, a chapter and an interest group.

Jonathan Barrio, former executive director of GVSC, founded GVSC to build a safe and fun space for the LGBTQ community. The vision of the club is to establish a social environment through programming and service “built on the premise of promoting an inclusive, empowered and respectful brotherhood.”

“The Gay Vista Social Club builds friendships throughout South Florida,” says Erin Atwood, current executive director. “By providing programs and supporting other local LGBTQ organizations, GVSC strives in creating a sense of community, forging meaningful relationships and developing social interaction among gay, bisexual and queer men.”

Admission to Thursday’s FUSS fashion show event at Creative Male is free and open to the first 50 registrants. RSVP at https://WhatTheFUSS.eventbrite.com/.

March for Our Lives attracts LGBT community leaders

National youth-led movement advocating for better gun control

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

Local LGBT activists and openly gay elected officials joined the #NeverAgain movement Friday and Saturday, marching in solidarity with millions of anti-gun activists nationwide to demand change in Tallahassee and Washington, DC and enforce stricter gun laws.

March for Our Lives was created, inspired and led by students across the country who wish to no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings in the United States. The latest incident took place Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, leaving 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school [or]…one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students,” said Walker Burttschell, president of the Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus. “We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”

North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin joined students from North Miami High School and Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School as they boarded buses headed for the nation’s capital Friday, March 23.

“As a former teacher, I realize this is a historic event and a teachable moment,” Galvin said. “Many of these students have never been to Washington, DC. This is an opportunity for them to participate in a rally that speaks to their generation.”

Photo courtesy of Michael Góngora

The City of Miami Beach hosted a March for Our Lives rally at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 24 prior to a local march, which started at Miami Beach High School. The rally attracted several community leaders, including City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Góngora says he is “extremely proud” that the City of Miami Beach hosted the Miami-Dade County version of the national youth-led movement advocating for better gun control and mental health counseling.

The March for Our Lives is a movement to fight for our students’ rights to live in a world where they don’t have to go to school worried that they will not make it home that day,” Góngora said.

Miami Beach commissioners recently passed a resolution urging federal and state elected officials to restrict the availability and use of military-grade and high capacity magazine assault weapons to law enforcement agencies only. Góngora also sponsored a discussion regarding filing litigation seeking to invalidate state law which punishes elected officials for violating state preemption provisions related to the regulation of firearms and ammunition.

“Given the severity of the penalties for violating the state preemption provisions, I believe that a lawsuit seeking to invalidate these extreme penalties is the strongest course of action for the city to take regarding this matter,” Góngora said. “The city commission unanimously supported this idea and directed the city attorney to join in proposed litigation by the City of Weston or file our own.”

Activist Jaime Bayo says the need for new gun reform has been needed ever since one of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. affected a segment of the LGBT community in 2016 when a gunman shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. That incident was followed by the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, which killed 58 people.

“Don’t be complicit to gun violence. Now is not the time to be silent on this issue,” Bayo said. “I stand with my brothers and sisters slaughtered at Pulse. I stand with the kindergarteners and the college students gunned down in their own schools….to make concerts and movie theaters and even homes safer in our country. If not now, when?”

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Góngora was among the openly gay elected officials and LGBT activists that joined the March for Our Lives Saturday. The rally attracted several other community leaders, including City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. (Photos courtesy of Michael Góngora).

Miami Beach Gay Pride celebrates 10th anniversary with week-long festivities

Events include a pageant, dance parties, fundraisers, a gala and the closing day parade led by Grand Marshals Gus Kenworthy and Roxanne Vargas

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

For its momentous 10th year, Miami Beach Gay Pride 2018 will feature a week’s worth of events starting Monday, April 2 with the official Pride rainbow flag-raising ceremony at City Hall and the Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride pageant, which moves to glamorous new digs at the Faena Theater, 3201 Collins Ave.

Miami Beach elected officials will raise the flag at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Then at 8 p.m., “Pride Lights the Night – A Tribute to PULSE” kicks off as PULSE Nightclub survivor Laura Vargas “flips the switch” to illuminate the 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage in rainbow colors. Richard Murry, marketing director for Pride, says “Pride Lights the Night” is a week-long display of unity and remembrance paying tribute to the victims of PULSE and their families.

“The colorful display of lights throughout Greater Miami sends a message of support to the entire LGBTQ community as structures and buildings are illuminated in rainbow colors,” Murry said.

Reigning Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2017 Joanna James. (Photo by Dale Stine).

That same evening on April 2, a new Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride will be crowned. The Stella Rosa Red Carpet Champagne Reception, hosted by Kitty Meow, begins at 7:30 p.m., followed by the pageant at 9 p.m., hosted by Peter J. Morales, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2013 Tiffany Fantasia and Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2015 Athena Dion. Special guest performances during the evening will include Fantasia, Dion, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2014 TP Lords, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2016 Kalah Mendoza and the reigning Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2017 Joanna James, who will relinquish her crown to the next winner.

“I had no idea winning Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2017 would be this much fun. It has been a fabulous year,” James said. “I know I’m going to be a tough act to follow as Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride, so these ladies better bring it!”

Pageant contestants will compete in such categories as Presentation, Swimwear, Evening Gown with Questions and Answers and Talent. The winner will receive the title of Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2018; the Pride crown designed by Joey Rolon from Funky Sexy Couture; a matching jewelry set of ring and earrings designed by Michael Egnor from Beauty & Elegance Designs & Tittle; $1,000 in cash and $1,000 in prizes.

Pride festivities will continue throughout the rest of the week, including dance parties, a Friday night VIP gala and Saturday beach party and festival featuring singer/songwriter Betty Who and Australian international DJ and producer Dan Slater. The Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce will hold a fundraiser for Pride from 6-9 p.m. April 3 at the Shore Club, 1901 Collins Ave. The Spotlight Mega-Mixer will include cocktails and food bites, music and entertainment, a free drawing for prizes and opportunities to make network and business connections. Pre-register at GayBizMiami.com.

The Friday VIP gala will take place from 7:30-10:30 p.m. April 6 at the Faena Forum, 3300 Collins Ave. Comedian Julie Goldman and Brandy Howard of the “People’s Couch” and the podcast, “Dumb Gay Politics,” will be the hosts of the gala with music by DJ Adora. Grand Marshals Gus Kenworthy, Olympic silver medalist, and Roxanne Vargas, NBC6 anchor, will also be in attendance.

Pride’s 10th anniversary culminates Sunday, April 8 with the parade and festival at noon, featuring more than 125 LGBT-friendly vendors and businesses, refreshments, food and a family-friendly play area. The newly crowned Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride will be featured in the parade and be introduced from the Grand Stand Stage and perform at the Main Stage. There will also be musical performances by 80s songstress Taylor Dayne, R&B and Disco Grammy award winner Thelma Houston and international DJ and producer Hector Fonseca.

Kenworthy joins Vargas for Grand Marshal duties, as the two will lead the parade down Ocean Drive. Mark Fernandes, chairman of the Pride board of directors, said Kenworthy and Vargas were chosen as this year’s Grand Marshals because they are “two preeminent public figures who well represent and support the LGBTQ community.”

“Gus for being a role model as an out and proud sportsman who excels at his craft and Roxy for being a prominent ally for the community and equal rights,” Fernandes said.

Kenworthy first represented the United States in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, bringing home the silver medal in slopestyle. Since then he has earned seven World titles and five X Games medals and is known for being the first Olympic free skier to ever perform a double cork 1080 and right side 1440 in a halfpipe, a double flip on a hip jump and a flip off a rail. In 2015, Kenworthy came out as a gay man in an ESPN Magazine cover story. His on-camera good luck kiss from his boyfriend at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang recently went viral around the world.

As an Emmy award-winning host of NBC6’s “6 in the Mix,” Vargas has been a supporter of Pride and the LGBTQ community for many years, earning the Pink Flamingo Award for Favorite Media Personality three times. She says being named an Ally Grand Marshal this year has meant a lot to her.

“Since day one, my husband and I have been nothing but loved and adored and welcomed with open arms by the LGBTQ community,” Vargas said at the kickoff event and fundraiser for Miami Beach Gay Pride in January. “To have been named an Ally Grand Marshal this year, it’s been such an incredible opportunity to have really smart conversations about the community and about getting more allies to come out and support and to understand what this means to the community and to just show up.”

Gus Kenworthy and Roxanne Vargas

Following the parade, there will be a “Garden of Eve” women’s party at Lummus Park with Jenny Foxx and DJ MISS M spinning their beats and special appearances and entertainment by Goldman and Howard at 5 p.m.

Miami Beach Gay Pride was recently named one of the “Top 100 Events of the Year” for the fourth year in a row by BizBash Magazine and earned the Pink Flamingo Award as favorite multi-day event for the fifth year in a row.

Since its inception in 2009, Miami Beach Gay Pride has grown from a neighborhood event to one on the global stage with participating celebrities such as Patti LaBelle, Gloria Estefan, Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks, Chaz Bono, Mario Lopez, Sharon Gless, Andy Cohen, Ross Mathews, Bebe Rexha, Elvis Duran and Iggy Azalea. Attendance has grown from 15,000 spectators at the first Pride parade in 2009 to an estimated 135,000 in 2017. In addition, last year’s event included more than 70 parade contingencies, 35 floats and 3,000 participants.

“It takes an army of dedicated volunteers and staff, the support of the City of Miami Beach and the help of all our sponsors to produce a Pride of this magnitude,” Mark Fernandes said. “A special shout-out goes to our presenting sponsor Celebrity Cruises, who really helped us bring Pride to a new level last year.”

Tickets for Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride can be purchased at http://missmbgp2018.brownpapertickets.com. For pageant registration and information, contact Tiffany Fantasia at 305-215-7270, sobetiffany@gmail.com or Peter J. Morales at 786-368-8374, missmiamibeachgaypride@gmail.com. For more information about Miami Beach Gay Pride, visit www.miamibeachgaypride.com.

30th AIDS Walk Miami to attract thousands of participants

5k fundraiser takes place April 22 in Miami Beach

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

AIDS Walk Miami, a 5k walk-a-thon fundraiser benefiting Care Resource and the Food-for-Life-Network, marks its 30th anniversary this year on Sunday, April 22. The walk begins and ends at SoundScape Park, 400 17th St., in Miami Beach.

All funds raised from AIDS Walk Miami are used in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to help diverse communities in need with case management services, housing assistance, food assistance, counseling, prevention outreach/education and other support services. Care Resource offers free, confidential and rapid HIV/STI testing, PrEP linkage and client referrals to other available health services.

Rick Siclari, CEO at Care Resource, says AIDS Walk Miami is an important fundraiser that attracts thousands of participants who “walk for different reasons, but walk together for one common cause — to prevent new infections, maximize the health outcomes of those infected and to end the epidemic here in South Florida.”

“During this 30-year anniversary, we will walk in honor and memory of those we knew, loved and lost to HIV,” Siclari said. “With the progress that continues to be made, we are hopeful that sometime in our lifetime, God willing, there will be a cure.”

Though HIV/AIDS is now a manageable illness — with a host of medications allowing people to live longer, healthier lives — more than 40,000 people each year are still getting infected. Miami-Dade and Broward counties are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country for the number of new HIV and AIDS cases. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, who is serving as the Master of Ceremonies for AIDS Walk Miami, says that needs to change.

“We can all help make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past….This walk is a key part of that effort,” Gelber said. “It shows that our community is not only inclusive but also committed to helping those affected by HIV/AIDS and becoming better educated about the virus. Together we can truly change the course of this epidemic and get to zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma.”

People living with HIV/AIDS require services that are funded by AIDS Walk Miami. Kishi Martin, a promotion outreach educator and peer navigator at Care Resource, said he was motivated to pursue a career in the field because he wanted to help and make a difference in his community.

“So many friends of mine have been diagnosed with HIV and STIs and we didn’t have the knowledge or information necessary enough to protect us, especially those who are LGBT,” Martin said. “My mother lost a lot of friends to HIV in the 1980s and always had conversations about sexuality and sexual health.”

Martin says he supports the LGBT community — a portion of the population most affected by HIV — because he was bullied throughout his childhood and grew up wanting to feel accepted.

“I want to be among people who won’t judge me for my sexuality,” Martin said. “I feel validated and empowered that I can be myself without hiding who I am and help others who are dealing with discrimination or lacking self-esteem.”

Jorge Bernal, television presenter for “La Voz Kids,” “Suelta La Sopa Telemundo” and NBC Universal, is serving as this year’s Grand Marshal for AIDS Walk Miami. He says participation in the walk is “critical to increasing awareness, fighting stigma and raising funds to support the most vulnerable people living with HIV/AIDS in South Florida.”

“Advances in treatment and new prevention strategies have now made ‘Getting to Zero’ — zero new infections, zero deaths, zero stigma — an achievable goal,” Bernal said. “Getting to zero still requires the efforts of everybody. Please join me on April 22nd and thousands of others that are committed to getting to zero by participating in AIDS Walk Miami.”

Kishi Martin, a promotion outreach educator and peer navigator at Care Resource. (Photo courtesy of Care Resource).

During the post-walk ceremony, attendees can enjoy a community health fair with a variety of activities for families and the community, including pet adoptions, free wellness screenings, HIV testing, carnival games, giveaways, dozens of booths with information about available medical and support resources and more. Walkers are encouraged to visit every station at the health fair and complete a “health passport,” which they obtain after the walk. Each participant will receive prizes and incentives for their participation.

Recording artist Daniel Patrick Ellis and singer/songwriter Janae Catt will be the scheduled performers. Ellis says while advancements have been made in medicine to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, “we are still on our journey to end AIDS.”

“Working cohesively with my friends at Care Resource is an honor and I am looking forward to celebrating the progress we’re making together as a community,” Ellis said.

Registration for AIDS Walk Miami begins at 8 a.m. April 22. The walk begins at 9 a.m. To register online, visit www.aidswalkmiami.org. For more information about Care Resource, visit www.careresource.org.

LGBT leaders strategizing to remove ‘harmful clause’ from human rights ordinance

Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus

Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus and SAVE say the goal is to identify and groom pro-equality candidates to run for county commission

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

The Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus and members of SAVE, a local LGBT rights group, met March 13 to discuss the religious exemption clause in Miami-Dade County’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The meeting, which took place at the Hotel Gaythering, was a discussion and strategic planning session held in response to the recent news of a local lesbian Catholic school teacher being fired for marrying her longtime girlfriend.

First-grade teacher Jocelyn Morffi was terminated from Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School after school officials learned she had married her partner, Natasha Hass, Feb. 3. Florida remains one of the few states where employers can still fire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s frightening that in 2018 someone can be fired just because of who they love…and that’s exactly what happened to Jocelyn,” said Justin Klecha, deputy director of SAVE. “She left work on a Friday, married her longtime partner, and then on Monday was fired. Employees should only be judged on their ability to do their jobs, but despite Jocelyn’s excellent record and eight years of service she was fired.”

School teacher Jocelyn Morffi was terminated from Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School after school officials learned she had married her partner, Natasha Hass, Feb. 3.

Mary Ross Agosta, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami, told Politico Florida that Morffi was fired for violating her contract. She said Catholic school employees have to sign a contract pledging they will follow church policy, which includes a prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Klecha said the goal of last week’s meeting was to have a conversation about religious exemptions and to strategize a way to remove “this harmful clause” from Miami-Dade County’s Human Rights Ordinance.

“Unfortunately, with the current composition of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, this isn’t a viable option at the moment,” Klecha said. “Employers who are accepting of LGBT people help attract the best and the brightest, but I think that it’s clear the Archdiocese in South Florida isn’t interested in that, which is really alarming considering we’re talking about educating children.”

Walker Burttschell, president of the Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said Morffi’s situation is “heart-breaking and infuriating.”

“I think most Catholics, especially in South Florida, believe no one should be fired based on their sexual orientation or because they chose to marry the person they love. I say this as a former Catholic,” Burttschell said. “Change, in this case, has to come from within — a task better left to the students and parents of the school.”

Burttschell said the Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and other progressive organizations need to actively identify and groom viable candidates and work on getting pro-equality candidates elected to the Miami-Dade County Commission. But he added “there is no short-term, immediate fix to this.”

“We as a caucus want to identify an open-LGBT person to run and reshape the commission,” Burttschell said. “We need to start thinking strategically and developing longterm plans to address this particular issue with religious exemption and the litany of other issues that affect us and the broader community.”

The Miami-Dade LGBTA Democratic Caucus and members of SAVE, a local LGBT rights group, met March 13 at the Hotel Gaythering to discuss the religious exemption clause in Miami-Dade County’s anti-discrimination ordinance. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Barrio).

Burttschell says progressives need to “step up,” adding the issue “just makes it clear that progressives do not have much of an influence in this town, politically speaking.”

“I’m not sure if a more progressive commission would’ve completely prevented [Jocelyn] from being fired,” Burttschell said. “However, a more progressive commission would’ve been able to have a conversation on this subject and re-examine the religious exemption clause, something the current commission will not do.”

Klecha said SAVE is non-partisan and will continue to be, but “for the LGBT community to achieve full equality, it needs to stop being a partisan issue.”

“Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely the outcome of Jocelyn’s case will change,” Klecha said. “However, we can make sure there isn’t another case like Jocelyn’s by removing the religious exemption in our Human Rights Ordinance or by passing comprehensive statewide protections.”

Klecha said right now, “our best shot at doing that” is to identify and groom LGBT Democrats for office and work to get more pro-equality leaders elected.

“What’s most important to us when we work with a candidate is that they are the best person for the job and fully supportive of LGBT rights regardless of party affiliation,” Klecha said. “While we will continue to educate the [current] commission, our best bet is to make sure we are forward-thinking and start working to get more pro-equality commissioners elected in 2020.”

Trans support group tackles substance abuse, discrimination and other transgender issues

Photo courtesy of Carmen Pineiro

STOPP program at Borinquen Medical Centers of Miami-Dade provides treatment and services to LGTBQ individuals and minorities

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

When Joval Valdivia joined Borinquen Medical Centers of Miami-Dade four months ago, he knew right away the first thing he wanted to implement in his role as an outreach specialist was a support group for transgender individuals.

“Transgenders are the most discriminated in the LGBTQ community,” said Valdivia, who is known throughout Miami and Fort Lauderdale for his fliers and promotions of clubs and events from South Beach to Wilton Manors. “After my friend, sister and mother in the scene, legendary trans woman Jackie Wilson, passed away, I was so hurt I knew I needed to do something to help this community that suffer from depression, suicide, drug use or get into abusive relationships.”

When other trans friends such as Paloma de Laurenti, Monica Cooper and Bianca Brinski — “the list goes on,” Valdivia says — died too soon, Valdivia made it his mission to make a difference in the trans community. So he started working at the Borinquen office at 100 NE 38th St. in November, referred by Angel Infiniti Camacho, who works the tests and treatment program at Borinquen. The trans support group launched in January. Meetings are held bi-weekly on Tuesday evenings.

“This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” Valdivia said. “I remember one of my best friends, entertainer Barbra Brice, lived here on South Beach. Not even drag could help her survive. She is a smart trans woman. No one would hire her at a regular daytime job, so she had to leave Miami and move in with her parents because the struggle in Miami was too much.”

Valdivia says support groups like this accomplish a lot for those who attend.

“We talk about substance abuse, discrimination, depression and other topics that the trans community deals with on a daily basis,” Valdivia said. “They learn something new in every group meeting. We create different topics every week.”

Transgender activist and author Rajee Narinesingh and outreach specialist Joval Valdivia. (Photo courtesy of Joval Valdivia).

Transgender activist, author and actress Rajee Narinesingh was recently a guest speaker at one of the group meetings. Valdivia says he hopes to have more transgender members of the community attend and share stories of their journey, including Taina Norell, Aryah Lester and Morgan Mayfaire.

For now, Valdivia says the support group is trans focused because “there is not enough support out there for [transgenders].” He adds Borinquen also offers a recovery skills group on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. and a Spanish version of that group on Fridays at 10 a.m. Valdivia says it is an open space for everyone.

“This group wouldn’t be possible without Carmen Pineiro, program coordinator, and Waleska Perez, substance abuse counselor,” Valdivia said.

Pineiro runs the Substance Abuse Treatment Outpatient & Prevention Program (STOPP), which provides substance abuse treatment and services to LGTBQ individuals, minorities and others facing these issues. Services include outreach; individual substance abuse counseling; groups counseling; early recovery skills; relapse prevention; family education; prevention and risk reduction education and counseling; HIV and Hepatitis testing, counseling and treatment; referral and linkage to residential treatment facilities; access and linkage to psychiatric services and specialty medical services; Ryan White case management; and additional community support services, such as housing and employment assistance.

For the last 10 years, STOPP has been successful in reducing substance use among African Americans and Hispanics and providing access to HIV care. With rising crystal meth use within the gay community and new HIV infections, Pineiro says STOPP maximizes its focus on engaging the LGBT community in efforts to increase awareness.

“Borinquen is committed to decreasing substance use and increasing healthier lifestyles in our Miami-Dade community,” Pineiro said. “This funding gives us the opportunity to offer more services, increase access to these services and to make a lasting, positive impact on our community.”

Photo by Jose Cassola

Pineiro says addiction “destroys all aspects of a person’s life, confiscating the mind and body and leading to loss of employment, financial instability, loss of family support and homelessness.” She adds individuals who need treatment often have limited resources, don’t know where to turn to or ashamed to ask for help if it’s available.

“Experienced STOPP counselors provide an atmosphere conducive to recovery and assist clients throughout their personal recovery journeys,” Pineiro said. “If you know anyone who admits to using drugs or alcohol or has depression or anxiety and you believe they will benefit from speaking to a counselor, do not hesitate to refer them to STOPP.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 305-576-1599, ext. 3117.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School GSA members honored by Equality Florida

Students and advisors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School GSA received the Voice for Equality Award at the Equality Florida Miami gala March 10. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Barrio).

Organization’s Miami gala also recognized SAVE and the Huizenga Family Foundation

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

Equality Florida held its 2018 Miami gala Saturday, March 10, at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, honoring members and groups in South Florida who are making a difference in the LGBT community and beyond. Among the honorees were students, staff and faculty of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, whom received the Voice for Equality Award for their activism on gun control in the aftermath of a mass shooting Feb. 14 that left 17 dead at the school.

Diane Wolk-Rogers and Mario Caicedo, sponsors of the gay-straight alliance at Stoneman Douglas, accepted the award on behalf of the club and members of the Never Again movement, who are planning the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. March 24.

“Their determination and their resiliency is absolutely an inspiration to all of us,” Wolk-Rogers said.

Student and GSA president Emma Gonzalez spoke at the gala, starting her speech by asking attendees to observe a moment of silence for the victims of Stoneman Douglas and Pulse Orlando.

“Just over three weeks ago, we experienced a tragedy that has been described as many things but for right now I’m going to go with unnecessary,” Gonzalez said. “We lost 14 classmates, three faculty members, and there are plenty of individuals who are injured and are still in the hospital…It’s important to remember these individuals when we fight for gun safety and gun control, as well as all other individuals affected by gun violence in America.”

Emma Gonzalez, a student and GSA president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke at the Equality Florida Miami gala March 10. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Lorber).

Gonzalez said she and her fellow GSA members were grateful and humbled to be honored by Equality Florida. She said many of the members of her GSA this year have “for the first time found a place where they can be themselves freely and can experiment with names and labels while learning about a culture that is widely ignored in text books and curriculum.”

“It is for us the combination of the oppression we face in the LGBT+ community along with being students who are told to listen rather than to speak, the unsatisfyingly short period of times which we are allowed to be our true selves and a million other reasons that has contributed to us jamming our feet in the door of the media and refusing to stand back in this time of senseless tragedy,” Gonzalez said. “Now that we know that we have the power to call ‘BS,’ nothing can stand in our way of using it.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said the organization wanted to recognize the “efforts in the community that are creating a better Florida for us all” and that includes the students from the Stoneman Douglas GSA.

“Somebody asked me do I think these students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas are our future leaders and I said no, I don’t think they are. I think they are our leaders right now,” Smith said. “[They] have been among the most prominent leaders to step forward demanding sensible gun reform in the wake of this terrible tragedy, and we wanted to honor them and their advisors for their heroism.”

Smith gave an update on equality in the state of Florida, noting more than 60 percent of the population live in places where sexual orientation and gender identity protections exist at the local level.

“I’m hopeful right now, in part, because I know our victories have not been built on something thin and flimsy,” Smith said. “It’s been built on us standing in those difficult places, being the first to run for office, being the ones who speak up not just in the progressive areas in our community but in the rural places like where I grew up, where it’s tough.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, gave an update on equality in the state of Florida. (Photo courtesy of DeAnne Connolly Graham).

Other groups whom were honored Saturday included SAVE, which received the Community Partner for Equality Award, and the Huizenga Family Foundation, which received the Service and Leadership Award for its sponsorship of Equality Florida’s Safe and Healthy Schools project. The foundation recently made a three-year commitment to help grow the program, which aims to protect and support LGBTQ students.

“From our very earliest days, making schools safe for our LGBTQ young people was a core program at Equality Florida,” said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of the 21-year-old organization. “Our vision is not simply to help a single student or a single school but to shift forever the culture in our schools in support of LGBTQ young people…Today, every single high school in Miami-Dade and Broward has a GSA, and many of the middle schools have resources, as well. This is the environment we hope to create where our young people have the support and encouragement that they can rise up and become incredible leaders.”

Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, accepted the Community Partner for Equality Award on behalf of SAVE, which for 25 years has done its part to protect LGBTQ people from harassment and discrimination. The organization has led efforts to pass and defend dozens of local ordinances and were plaintiffs in the federal case that brought marriage equality to Florida.

SAVE identified tens of thousands of pro-equality voters and was instrumental in LGBT candidate David Richardson’s history-making run for the Florida House. More recently, the organization launched a project to ban conversion therapy that is gaining support statewide.

“This is SAVE’s 25th year in South Florida fighting for not only the rights of the LGBTQ community but for the rights of all of us that are marginalized,” Lima said. “LGBTQ means women, immigrants, people of color, people of faith, young people, basically everyone. We are the entire community and we will not stop until equality is a reality for us all, not only in the state of Florida but in our neighboring states and country as a whole.”

As the executive director of SAVE for the last five years, Lima says it’s been his “very great fortune to help bring this organization to a place where we are that much closer to enjoying full equality.”

“It is such an incredible time for us all,” Lima said. “It’s important for us to continue to work together. It’s important for us to continue to have partnerships, and it’s important that we continue fighting the fight.”

Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, accepted the Community Partner for Equality Award on behalf of SAVE. (Photo courtesy of DeAnne Connolly Graham).

Miami Beach Gay Pride names Olympic medalist Grand Marshal

Gus Kenworthy, Roxanne Vargas and Joanna James

Gus Kenworthy joins NBC’s Roxanne Vargas to lead the parade April 8 following a week’s worth of events, including the Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride Pageant

By Jose Cassola

jocacommunications@outlook.com

Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy is joining NBC6 anchor and host Roxanne Vargas for Grand Marshal duties at this year’s Miami Beach Gay Pride, which celebrates its 10th anniversary from April 2-8.

The two marshals will lead the parade down Ocean Drive beginning at noon Sunday, April 8, following a week of events that include the sixth annual Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride Pageant on Monday, April 2.

Mark Fernandes, chairman of the Pride board of directors, said Kenworthy and Vargas were chosen as this year’s Grand Marshals because they are “two preeminent public figures who well represent and support the LGBTQ community.”

“Gus for being a role model as an out and proud sportsman who excels at his craft and Roxy for being a prominent ally for the community and equal rights,” Fernandes said.

Kenworthy first represented the United States in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, bringing home the silver medal in slopestyle. Since then he has earned seven World titles and five X Games medals and is known for being the first Olympic free skier to ever perform a double cork 1080 and right side 1440 in a halfpipe, a double flip on a hip jump and a flip off a rail. In 2015, Kenworthy came out as a gay man in an ESPN Magazine cover story. His on-camera good luck kiss from his boyfriend at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang recently went viral around the world.

As an Emmy award-winning host of NBC6’s “6 in the Mix,” Vargas has been a supporter of Pride and the LGBTQ community for many years, earning the Pink Flamingo Award for Favorite Media Personality three times. She says being named an Ally Grand Marshal this year has meant a lot to her.

“Since day one, my husband and I have been nothing but loved and adored and welcomed with open arms by the LGBTQ community,” Vargas said at the kickoff event and fundraiser for Miami Beach Gay Pride in January. “To have been named an Ally Grand Marshal this year, it’s been such an incredible opportunity to have really smart conversations about the community and about getting more allies to come out and support and to understand what this means to the community and to just show up.”

Photo by Stephen R. Lang

For its momentous 10th year, Miami Beach Gay Pride 2018 will feature a week’s worth of events, including dance parties, a Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce fundraiser, a Friday night VIP gala, Saturday beach party and festival, and the Sunday parade and festival featuring more than 125 LGBT-friendly vendors and businesses, musical performances, refreshments, food and a family-friendly play area.

This year’s Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride Pageant moves to glamorous new digs at the Faena Theater, 3201 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach. The Stella Rosa Red Carpet Champagne Reception, hosted by Kitty Meow, begins at 7:30 p.m. April 2, followed by the pageant at 9 p.m., hosted by Peter J. Morales, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2013 Tiffany Fantasia and Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2015 Athena Dion. Special guest performances during the evening will include Fantasia, Dion, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2014 TP Lords, Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2016 Kalah Mendoza and the reigning Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2017 Joanna James, who will relinquish her crown to the next winner.

“I had no idea winning Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2017 would be this much fun. It has been a fabulous year,” James said. “I know I’m going to be a tough act to follow as Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride, so these ladies better bring it!”

Pageant contestants will compete in such categories as Presentation, Swimwear, Evening Gown with Questions and Answers and Talent. The winner will receive the title of Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride 2018; the Pride crown designed by Joey Rolon from Funky Sexy Couture; a matching jewelry set of ring and earrings designed by Michael Egnor from Beauty & Elegance Designs & Tittle; $1,000 in cash and $1,000 in prizes. Included in the prize package are a photo shoot by photographer Dale Stine; an interview on NBC6’s “6 in the Mix” with Ally Grand Marshal Vargas; and a meet-and-greet photo-op with this year’s Pride Marshals at the VIP Gala at the Faena Forum on April 6. The newly crowned queen will also be featured in the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade and be introduced from the Grand Stand Stage and perform at the Main Stage on April 8; emcee 2019 Miami Beach Gay Pride festivities; and appear at events and activities leading up to the 2019 Pride.

Photo by Stephen R. Lang

Miami Beach Gay Pride was recently named one of the “Top 100 Events of the Year” for the fourth year in a row by BizBash Magazine and earned the Pink Flamingo Award as favorite multi-day event for the fifth year in a row.

Since its inception in 2009, Miami Beach Gay Pride has grown from a neighborhood event to one on the global stage with participating celebrities such as Patti LaBelle, Gloria Estefan, Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks, Chaz Bono, Mario Lopez, Sharon Gless, Andy Cohen, Ross Mathews, Bebe Rexha, Elvis Duran and Iggy Azalea. Attendance has grown from 15,000 spectators at the first Pride parade in 2009 to an estimated 135,000 in 2017. In addition, last year’s event included more than 70 parade contingencies, 35 floats and 3,000 participants.

“It takes an army of dedicated volunteers and staff, the support of the City of Miami Beach and the help of all our sponsors to produce a Pride of this magnitude,” Mark Fernandes said. “A special shout-out goes to our presenting sponsor Celebrity Cruises, who really helped us bring Pride to a new level last year.”

Tickets for Miss Miami Beach Gay Pride can be purchased at http://missmbgp2018.brownpapertickets.com. For pageant registration and information, contact Tiffany Fantasia at 305-215-7270, sobetiffany@gmail.com or Peter J. Morales at 786-368-8374, missmiamibeachgaypride@gmail.com.

For more information about Miami Beach Gay Pride, visit www.miamibeachgaypride.com.