CLARITY SPECIAL SECTION
As an openly lesbian woman working for a men’s professional basketball team, I’m humbled to share a unique coming out story right here in the pages of this magazine so aptly titled “Clarity.” It’s not a personal coming out story, mind you. It’s the story of how my employer of the past 17 years — the Miami HEAT — kicked the proverbial closet doors open and blazed its own rainbow trail.
The night was October 22, 2016, and the franchise was debuting HEAT Loud and Proud, our first ever free dance party for all of South Florida — but especially the LGBTQ community — to gather, have fun and celebrate life and diversity at AmericanAirlines Arena.
A labor of love, Loud and Proud was born in the aftermath of the fateful night in June that a gunman massacred 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Among the survivors of the shooting was an Arena staffer: Laura Vargas. If you know anything about the culture of the Miami HEAT, you know that our idea of family permeates everything we do both on and off the court. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Her story made the Pulse tragedy exceedingly personal.
The whole world mourned the catastrophic loss of life. But as the weeks passed, that gnawing sense that we had to respond began bubbling up around the organization. We had to do something to help the LGBTQ community. We decided this was the opportunity for the HEAT to loudly and proudly take center court, in front of a sold-out arena (if you’ll pardon my basketball metaphors) and embrace our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning brothers and sisters.
We named our event HEAT Loud and Proud, not only as an affirmation of the cause, but because that’s how we do: noise and nerve; buzz and bravado. We’re the Miami HEAT and we don’t back down.
That night, the steps of AmericanAirlines Arena were illuminated by rainbow colored lights that reflected beautifully across Biscayne Bay, and we welcomed 1,000 of our closest friends to our home. HEAT players Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson mingled with guests. NBA Ambassador and openly gay former NBA player, Jason Collins made a cameo appearance and the incomparable Roxanne Vargas of WTVJ hosted the festivities. The highlight of the evening was a $25,000 check presented to local grassroots non-profit Pridelines, Miami’s LGBTQ Community Center and South Florida’s oldest LGBTQ services agency. And Laura Vargas, who was our guest of honor, was right there, front and center, still recovering from her injuries but valiantly defying the odds. You can’t keep a good woman down.
Indeed that night the HEAT was loud and proud, but we’ve supported the LGBTQ community all along. Through the years, we’ve partnered with the Aqua Foundation, SAVE, the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce, Equality Florida and the Florida Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, and lent our resources, talent and expertise to a variety of LGBTQ causes. We have openly courted the LGBTQ community since as far back as the year 2000, when the WNBA’s Miami Sol played in our facility.
Everyone is welcome at AmericanAirlines Arena because we champion the diversity that truly makes Miami a magical place.
Miami is us and we are Miami. And we do the right thing because that’s the right thing to do.
The HEAT Group Business Communications
Corporate Partner Member of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce