LGBTQ South Florida

Un-canceled: LGBTQ Gay8 Festival in Little Havana will move to Feb. 18

Alexis Fernandez Mena as Marytrini at Gay8 Festival to celebrate LGBT culture on Calle Ocho in the heart of Little Havana on Sunday, January 15, 2017.
Alexis Fernandez Mena as Marytrini at Gay8 Festival to celebrate LGBT culture on Calle Ocho in the heart of Little Havana on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Miami Herald File

Following a sudden meeting with Miami’s acting city manager, the third annual Gay8 festival in Little Havana has been un-canceled, and moved from its previous date in January to President’s Day Weekend.

“We’re thrilled,” said Gay8 co-founder Damian Pardo, who on Wednesday met with Miami Assistant City Manager and CFO Fernando Casamayor, who is handling the top job while City Manager Daniel Alfonso is on vacation.

On Tuesday, Pardo and fellow Gay8 co-founder Joe Cardona canceled the festival after the city gave their presumed 2018 Sunday date during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to the annual Univision-sponsored Three Kings Parade.

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Gay8 Festival organizers gather at the restaurant Ball & Chain in Little Havana on Jan. 8, 2016. From left to right: Damian Pardo, Alexis Fernandez (AKA drag queen Marytrini), Amy Bloom and Joe Cardona. MATIAS J. OCNER Miami Herald File

Gay8, a free street festival to celebrate LGBTQ art, music and culture on Calle Ocho between Southwest 14th and 17th avenues, began in 2016. Thousands attended that year, and even more people turned out in January 2017, Cardona said.

Cardona and Pardo said earlier this week that no one at the city told them their regular date would be unavailable in 2018 and that they learned in mid-July from Univision — which also sponsors Gay8.

The Gay8 organizers said they had sent “multiple emails” to Alfonso and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and got no replies.

A city spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon that Gay8 organizers were themselves responsible for losing their usual date, because they had not formally applied to hold the 2018 event on Jan. 14, 2018, before Miami released the date to Three Kings Parade.

“The city of Miami has a first-come, first-serve policy for special event permits,” said Diana Gonzalez, Miami’s communications director, in an email Tuesday to the Miami Herald.

Three Kings Day is Jan. 6. In recent years, the Miami parade has happened on the Sunday nearest Three Kings Day. For the past two years, Gay8 has been held one week after the Three Kings Parade.

After news broke that Pardo and Cardona had canceled the 2018 Gay8 Festival and called for an LGBTQ special-events boycott of Miami, someone at the city reached out to them via SAVE, South Florida’s leading LGBTQ-rights group.

On Sunday Jan. 17, 2016, Willian Blondet, 28, left, and Welly Rosado, 27, dance to the music of salsa in front of Ball & Chain restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street during the Gay8 Festival in Miami, Florida. CARL JUSTE Miami Herald File

Pardo met with Casamayor, Miami government relations director Diana Arteaga and city film and special events liaison Vincent Betancourt on Wednesday at Miami’s administrative office center on Southwest Third Avenue.

“Before we started, we agreed that everything that was said would be confidential,” Pardo told the Herald.

Thursday morning, Gay8 called off the city boycott and announced the festival would happen in 2018, on Feb. 18 during President’s Day Weekend.

“After working cooperatively, the organizers of the Gay8 Festival and the city of Miami are moving forward to schedule the event for Sunday, Feb. 18. The city has only heard positive reviews of the event. We have respect for its organizers, and we are excited when we think of the growth prospects for the Little Havana neighborhood and the city of Miami,” Casamayor said in a statement. “As a result of the concerns brought forth by the Gay8 Festival, the city is committed to reviewing the special events permit process, with input from organizers, and implement any improvements that are necessary.”

Pardo says the President’s Day Weekend date was what the group had originally sought for its first festival in 2015, but had been told no because its the same weekend as Coconut Grove Art Festival and Miami International Boat Show.

Casamayor’s statement “says a lot,” Pardo said.

“The bottom line: We got the date we originally requested in 2015, which had been taken by other events. We also agreed to help them in improving their permitting process so this doesn’t happen again in the future. I think they very much look forward to that. The fact that they are improving the process based on our feedback says a lot. That’s a very strong statement. I’m very excited to help them.”

Another plus for Gay8 moving the festival to February, according to Pardo: “We’ve gained another month and we can go back to the contracts we lost. It couldn’t be better.”

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Crowds on Calle Ocho during Gay8 Festival to celebrate LGBT culture in the heart of Little Havana on Sunday, January 15, 2017. AL DIAZ Miami Herald File