Every year in June, the Greater Fort Lauderdale area is showered with rainbow flags to celebrate the history and achievements of the LGBT+ community. However, the spirit of pride transcends a mere month-long festivity in this region—it’s an ongoing mission that extends throughout the entire year.
Diversity and inclusion are deeply ingrained in the DNA of the Greater Fort Lauderdale community. From the countless entertainment options and thriving nightlife to the warm embrace of community outreach and revered historical institutions, the region truly celebrates the beauty of diversity.
How it All Began
Greater Fort Lauderdale has been at the forefront, blazing a trail with progressive laws that protect and empower the LGBT+ community. Notably, the cities of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Oakland Park, and Wilton Manors have received perfect scores on the municipality equality index by the Human Rights Campaign.
One of the first major moments for the LGBT+ community was in 1935 when the very first gay bar opened in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Club Ha-Ha touted itself as a place where “gayety knows no restraint” with female impersonators and people whose sexual orientation was outside what was considered the norm at the time. But the community’s real emergence on the scene didn’t come until the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Spring Break fever was in full swing, and gay men got the memo that Fort Lauderdale was a place with bars, beaches, and boys — it gives a new meaning to the classic collegiate movie filmed on Fort Lauderdale beach, “Where the Boys Are.”
Today, there’s an endless list of LGBT+ establishments, from nightclubs for bears to bars with drag performers, leather nights, pool parties, tea dances, and karaoke to belt out tunes by the divas.
Festivals and Culture Abound
Wilton Manors, lovingly referred to as "the gayborhood," embodies a continuous celebration of Pride thanks to its vibrant LGBT+ community. This welcoming neighborhood proudly hoists the Pride flag over City Hall every June, while a significant portion of its businesses are owned by and affiliated with the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Furthermore, the annual Stonewall Pride Festival takes place each summer, complete with a lively parade and street festival. Adding to the city's remarkable Pride events, Fort Lauderdale recently marked a historic milestone by hosting Pride of the Americas for the first time in February 2023. This proves that there's no need to wait until June to revel in the spirit of Pride!
Of course, the LGBT+ community is more than its nightlife and parties. Greater Fort Lauderdale is also home to world-renowned institutions that care for the history of the community.
The Stonewall National Museum & Archives was founded in 1972 by Mark Silber and today holds one of the largest archives of LGBT+ history. This includes photographs, books, magazines, textiles, pamphlets, protest placards, and other memorabilia. Historic items such as the gavel that was used to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are also on the walls of this storied museum. Throughout the year, the museum hosts movie screenings, exhibit openings, and conversations surrounding the past, present, and future of the LGBT+ community.
Within mere steps from the Stonewall Museum stands the World AIDS Museum, which finds its home within the ArtServe building. Originally established in 2011 by the esteemed organization known as POZitive Attitudes, it officially transformed into a physical museum in 2014. This remarkable institution offers a comprehensive exhibition that delves into the history of HIV/AIDS and its profound influence on healthcare, popular culture, and the LGBT+ community.
Greater Fort Lauderdale also has an active community center, The Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors. Here, the calendar is jam-packed with an inclusive array of support groups and social meetups for people of all ages, drawing 35,000 people a year. It is also an HIV testing site, as well as hosting events such as Equality Park After Dark, the Rainbow 5K, and other events.
On the campus is The Residences at Equality Park, one of a handful of LGBT+ friendly, low-income senior living facilities in the country. Other nonprofits in Greater Fort Lauderdale serving the LGBT+ community include SunServe, Latinos Salud, TransInclusive, Sherlock’s Homes Foundation, PRISM, Our Fund, and more.
Support From Greater Fort Lauderdale
Non-LGBT+ agencies have also supported the community. In 1995, the Broward County Board of Commissioners expanded the county’s Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation, and in 2008, further expanded to include gender identity. Meaning it is illegal in the county to discriminate against someone because they are LGBT+ in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
In 2012, the Broward County School Board was the first in the nation to pass a resolution recognizing October as LGBT+ History Month, and six years later, the county became the first to ban conversion therapy for LGBT+ youth.
In another major first, Visit Lauderdale, the Official Tourism Marketing Agency for Broward County, Florida, was the first destination in the world to launch a transgender-inclusive travel campaign, “Where Happy Meets Go Lucky.” Former Miss International World Isabella Santiago of Venezuela was included in the ad campaign, cruising the Venice of America on a sailboat with friends. Trans locals were included as well, such as a trans man serving customers at The Alchemist Coffee shop and a trans woman dancing the night away with a friend at Stache.
Most recently, in 2022, Visit Lauderdale changed its tagline to “Everyone Under The Sun.” And looking back at almost 100 years of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s open arms to the LGBT+ community, it’s no wonder why. The region continues to open its arms to welcome the community, offering visitors a fun, safe, and inclusive place to enjoy their vacation.