LGBTQ South Florida

‘Huge network’ of LGBTQ students, allies to march in Miami Beach Gay Pride parade

Students march on Ocean Drive at the 2015 Miami Beach Gay Pride parade.
Students march on Ocean Drive at the 2015 Miami Beach Gay Pride parade. THE MIAMI HERALD

This year’s Miami Beach Gay Pride is shaping up to be as big, bold and poignant an event as ever, with over five dozen contingents including many student groups from throughout Miami-Dade County coming to support the festival parade.

Miami Beach Gay Pride Executive Director Dave Cook describes the parade on April 9 as not just a celebration, but “a march for equality.”

For many people, Pride is “one day out of the year when they get to be themselves in public,” Cook said.

A literal highlight of the week-long 2017 festival: “Pride Lights the Night,” a tribute to last year’s Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting.

On June 12, 2016, 49 LGBTQ people and allies, most of them Hispanic, were slain at Pulse — the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The lighting of dozens of buildings throughout Pride weekend in Miami and Miami Beach will be “in recognition of the souls that we lost in Orlando,” Cook said.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, April 6, rainbow lights will illuminate the facades of the famed parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Rd. and the 13-floor office tower at the intersection of Lincoln and Washington Avenue. Through that weekend, other buildings will also be illuminated with pride lights including The Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College, AmericanAirlines Arena and Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Pride is hugely important to students across Miami-Dade County, something reflected by local high school, college and university Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) participation in the event. Organizations headed by young people, particularly college gay-straight alliances, have a “huge network of participation,” Cook said.

Florida International University, Miami Dade College and the University of Miami send large contingents of students to Pride, and youth-related organizations including The Alliance for GLBTQ Youth and Safe Schools South Florida also support the event, which officially begins Monday — when the LGBTQ rainbow flag is raised over Miami Beach City Hall — and runs through Sunday, April 9.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg has marched in several Pride parades with the school’s student contingent, and both UM and FIU organize buses to give students as much access to the event as possible.

Charisse Mellison, a gay sophomore at FIU and an ambassador for the LGBTQA Initiatives department, has walked in the Pride parade and describes it as “a pretty great experience” that opens the door to meeting many different people.

Pride also plays a big role in strengthening LGBTQ students’ resolve. “There’s definitely a lot that we’re up against and I think it’s nice to really kind of focus our energies and come together,” said Mellison, age 20.

Nathalie Matas, an 18-year-old bisexual high school senior and co-president of the GSA at School for Advanced Studies Wolfson, said that “a lot of times [LGBTQ] students feel alone in their experience.”

For many, Matas said, Pride becomes “one of the few instances where those particular students get to interact with other queer people in an open and nonjudgmental place.”

Matas’ gay-straight alliance, like others throughout Miami-Dade, encourages LGBTQ students and allies to attend Pride. Previously, her school’s contingent marched with Safe Schools South Florida, waving a rainbow flag.

Tim V., the bisexual, trans president of Stonewall Pride Alliance at FIU, described some of the university’s Pride preparations, such as a non-alcoholic beverage table, along with transportation and breakfast committees that help send the students to the parade and festival. FIU also encourages its students to purchase different-color shirts and split into groups to form a human rainbow walking in the parade.

Tim, a 22-year-old senior who asked that his last name not be published, said he is concerned about student safety and comfort.

“When you go as a trans person, specifically a non-passing trans person, you have people look at you and make these assumptions about who you are and how you identify,” he said.

Miami Beach Gay Pride is a celebration of all things LGBT. For youngsters and others who are survivors of sexual assault, the festival can be a “very sexually charged” environment with a “focus on clubbing,” Tim said.

“It tends to be a very big event for people who are closeted in their daily lives, and that works great for cis gay people who are over 21,” he said. (Cis people identify with their birth-assigned genders.)

Miami Beach Gay Pride works closely with the Miami Beach Police and Fire departments to ensure the safety of the event, and there are safe zones set up at different points “in case someone feels uncomfortable,” says Cook, who urges students who feel uncomfortable to “take advantage of the dozens and dozens of organizations who would love to speak with you, love to help you answer your questions.”

Miami Beach Gay Pride free events

▪ Miami Beach Gay Pride week officially opens 6 p.m. Monday with the raising of the rainbow flag over Miami Beach City Hall, 1700 Convention Dr.

▪ Pride Lights the Night pays tribute to the victims, families, and friends of the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016. Buildings throughout the greater Miami area will light up in the colors of the LGBTQ rainbow flag at sunset through the weekend. At 8 p.m. Thursday, Pulse survivor Mario Pérez will flip the switch at Lincoln Road and Pennsylvania Avenue to light the facades of several buildings.

▪ Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday at Lummus Park, 11th to 14th streets on Ocean Drive. Beach party with international DJs, exhibitors, community booths, family fun zone, food vendors and cash bars.

▪ Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, noon to 2 p.m. Sunday along Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th streets. Featuring Ross Mathews, celebrity grand marshal; “Uncle” Johnny Pool, advocate marshal; and Liebe & Seth Gadinsky, ally marshals.

▪ Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at Lummus Park, 11th to 14th streets on Ocean Drive.

For a complete list of events, visit