Every weekend, visitors and locals alike flock to South Beach for Palace’s weekend drag brunches. Many may not know that this event, a tourist favorite today, stands upon decades of history in a city with a vibrant LGBTQ+ community. For some University of Miami students, this was the reason they chose to become ‘Canes. But now, this community faces a bill that can make the mention of their existence illegal, or at least trigger a lawsuit, in Florida public schools.
Today, pride parades and festivals around the world are often thought of as jubilant celebrations, welcoming all while honoring the members and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. With a reputation for parties and parades, toasts and IG posts, some modern prides seem to exist in a different environment than their predecessors did 50 years ago. But make no mistake: Pride was born out of protest, and this year, some of that spirit just may have returned to Miami.
The 2022 celebration took place on the heels of the passage of the “Parental Rights in Education Bill” in Florida.
Commonly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it has generated nationwide criticism and controversy, while Miami faces the irony of being one of the nation’s most historic LGBTQ+ hotspots in a state where a gay teacher could now potentially be sued for mentioning his husband in passing.
The first Pride event took place in New York City in 1970, according to The New York Times, to honor the events of the Stonewall uprising one year prior.
Miami-Dade’s first Pride occurred in 1972, in protest against a city law banning cross-dressing. Shortly after, the law was halted by a federal court.
In January of 1977, the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a gay rights ordinance. According to a PBS article, the vote sparked Anita Bryant, a singer and former Miss America runner-up, to begin a repeal campaign she called “Save Our Children.” Within six weeks, Bryant had gathered the signatures necessary to put the issue to county voters, and that June the ordinance was successfully repealed.
The vote emboldened and galvanized the LGBTQ+ community, leading to more intense outcry and protests. But it was not until 1998 that gays in Miami-Dade County regained protection from discrimination.
Decades later, the feeling at Miami Beach Pride the week of April 1, 2022, was electric.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said University of Miami Junior Summer Ward.
Families took to the streets, local businesses sponsored floats and attendees rocked and and waved free beads and flags tossed at the parade.
“It isn’t sexual or a party, like a lot of people assume,” said Ward. “It’s just a celebration of LGBT people— and a protest of those trying to silence us.”
A celebration and a bit of a protest, she said, given recent Florida legislation.
“This felt a little more like a protest than last year’s Pride because of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” Ward said. “A lot of people were saying ‘We Say Gay’ or things to that effect; basically saying we will not hide, we will not be silenced.
On March 28, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed H.B. 1557, officially called the Parental Rights in Education Bill, into law. It will take effect July 1.
In a press conference ahead of the bill’s signing, DeSantis said teaching kindergartenaged children that “they can be whatever they want to be” is “inappropriate.”
The bill specifically prohibits “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten to third grade or “in a manner that is not age appropriate.”
It also references a parent’s right to make decisions regarding the “upbringing and control of their children” and bans school systems from adopting policies prohibiting the sharing with parents of information, concerning but not limited to, whether children are accessing mental health services.
Essentially, it aims to constrain and control discussions of sexual and gender identity within the classroom, and could require schools to report to parents when children seek any sort of mental health counseling. Its supporters say that it would give parents greater say in their children’s education, giving unsatisfied parents wide leeway to sue schools or teachers for noncompliance.
But the letter of the law is broad—perhaps intentionally so.
Who is to say what constitutes “age appropriate?” What happens when little Billy reads a book about a princess with two mommies? Or when Jenny presents her family tree for a class project and someone in class asks why she has two dads?
Reactions to the bill have generated buzz around the term “malicious compliance” on social media— can an upset father sue Mrs. Jones for wearing a wedding ring and teaching while pregnant? After all, this could imply she has a husband, and some parents may not want their children exposed to straight adults.
The bill’s original sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Joe Harding, claims that detractors have portrayed it in a false light.
“They said that we were banning the word, that we were banning people, all things that aren’t true,” Harding said in a February 24 press release.
“The biggest danger and the biggest lie is what the opposition to the bill is saying: that you can’t be pro-parent and compassionate and tolerant to the LGBTQ community.” Harding could not be reached for comment.
Proponents of the bill continue to insist that its main goal is furthering the rights of parents to be involved in the education of their children. Some, including DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, aim to rebrand it as “the Anti-Grooming Bill.”
“If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4–8-year-old children,” Pushaw tweeted. Neither Desantis nor Pushaw could be reached for comment.
The bill’s critics purport that it targets LGBTQ+ students unfairly, putting the health and wellness of these students in jeopardy.
“Today, Governor Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Republicans sacrificed the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students in order to appeal to the most radical parts of their base,” said Florida State Sen. Anette Taddeo
after the Senate passed the bill. “Multiple amendments were introduced by members of both parties that would have improved this terrible bill by broadening its language to remove the insidious language which targets LGBTQ+ students in our schools; but, those were all rejected.”
United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed his concerns via Twitter.
“It helped tremendously when teachers openly discussed our different backgrounds.
This built understanding and reduced shame,” Murthy said. “LGBTQ+ youth also deserve such proactive support. Preventing or criminalizing efforts to foster such understanding hurts kids and families. It shuts down dialogue instead of nurturing healthy conversation. And it sends a signal to LGBTQ+ youth that they are not fully accepted.
In Miami, a city with a thriving LGBTQ+ community, opposition is rising in waves. Students in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have staged walkouts, Miami teens have protested in Tallahassee and residents
and city officials alike have rallied at Pride Park in Miami Beach.
“Schools are safe places where we need to trust teachers to handle this topic of identity, which is a complex topic, with professionalism and also with the proper empathy and compassion that kids need,”
said Alex J. Fernandez, a Miami Beach city commissioner. “And I think we can trust our
teachers to do that.”
Yet another prevalent concern is the idea that this bill, while technically restrictive of only kindergarten through third grade, has the potential to produce ramifications that
echo beyond the beginnings of grade school.
“Kids beyond the third grade are watching and are listening,” Fernandez said. “The message that’s being put out there is that their identity is so wrong that it can’t even be mentioned in school. Th at’s the last thing that someone who is going through the process of molding who they are needs to hear.”
“Schools, especially public schools, should be places that foster inclusion, tolerance and acceptance,” reads a statement posted by SpectrUM, an LGBTQ+ organization at UM, “where students can feel free to be themselves…and to talk about their identities and the identities of loved ones without fear.”
Fernandez also expressed concern over the road this legislation may be paving for the future. Similar bills are already working through other state legislatures including Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Indiana.
“Once you create a law like this, you’ve opened the door,” he said. “These are the bigger fears that I have—it creates division where division shouldn’t exist, intolerance where schools should be safe environments.
It deletes the reality of our diversity.” “My partner and I are as much a family as a straight husband and wife are,” Fernandez said of Robert Wolfarth, his partner of 15 years.
Andrea Orellana, a sophomore nursing major at UM, said she feels the bill takes a large step back in the progress that has been made toward acceptance of LGBTQ+
identities. “It’s basically telling the LGBT youth that they are not accepted, that they’re not
welcome,” she said. “Instilling that idea in a child lasts a lifetime.”
Collin Miller, a UM junior and biology major, said the new law may even limit children’s ability to develop an understanding of sexuality, which may be a significant part of their daily worlds.
“Our society is putting gay relationships out into the open even more,” he said. “So, I think there are going to be questions and ways to understand the world that they need to have clarified, and that’s fine.
The 305, and especially Miami Beach, has had an active gay night life scene as early as the 1930s, even though mainstream culture viewed it as taboo well into the 60s and beyond.
Miller said that Miami’s reputation for being open was a factor he considered in his decision to attend college here. Having come out to friends and family during his senior year of high school in Glen Ridge,
New Jersey, he said that acceptance and connection were at the forefront of his mind.
“I looked at Miami as I might thrive there,” Miller said. “It’s not only being like ‘OK, I’ll find my people,’ but it’s a booming gay community.”
In South Beach, much of the existing culture was shaped by the development of gay nightlife in the late 1900s. One of its early staples, Palace, opened in 1988 and is still known today for drag brunches and theatrical block parties. Palace was one of the first restaurants opened directly on Ocean Drive, but by the early 90s the nearby stretch of South Beach at 12th Street had a reputation as a safe haven for gay men.
Twist, another popular gay bar, opened in 1993 just two blocks away from the 12th Street Beach.
“When I came out, I didn’t have any exposure to gay life until I went to the clubs,” said Athena Dion, a drag performer who has worked throughout Florida for 11 years, spanning locales from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach.
“The clubs serve the LGBT community more than clubs do the straight community, because LGBT clubs are more like our community centers,” said Dion. “They’re somewhere we can go and be safe and
be around people that are exactly like us, going through what we’re going through, and living our
They’re more focused on that community than a straight community.”
Dion has worked at multiple iconic clubs over the years, leading Palace’s Tuesday night show for eight years and hosting competition nights at Twist. She recently stepped into a directorial role at R House in Wynwood, where she runs weekend drag brunches that are more catered to Miami locals than the famous yet tourist-choked South Beach.
“In Miami, you can basically go and be free anywhere you want right now,” Dion said. “But in places where they’re a little bit more conservative, the gay bars and clubs still serve as these safe places where people can go without feeling like they’re going to be treated differently or harassed for being queer.
They’re very important in that they offer safe places to the people of our community.”
Miller said he appreciates that, while hotspots like Palace and Twist act as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals, the nightlife in Miami brings together all types of people.
“It’s not just for our community,” he said. “It’s kind of ingrained into Miami as an experience.”
Orellana, who has frequented gay clubs in Washington, D.C., said her experiences in Miami have been different from those in any other city.
“It’s more flamboyant and vibrant,” she said. “It’s so emphasized here and more accepting. Not that it’s not accepted there, but it’s just so open.”
Today, Miami is still distinctly recognized for its outspoken gay community, with clubs like Palace holding national name recognition and safe spaces like 12th Street Beach constantly flying flags and pride
For Miller, the openness and honesty in Miami stands out. He said that he appreciates people being willing and able to be true to themselves.
“People are doing what they want and they’re wearing what they want,” Miller said. “I see people talking about being gay openly.”
“Just in Miami-Dade County, we’ve progressed so much,” said Fernandez. “We have a human rights ordinance, we led on LGBTQ+ rights…it seems like we move forward, but then we take steps backwards. We just need to demand better of our legislators.”
And yet, after decades of increased awareness and acceptance, H.B. 1557 may seem to halt the conversation.
Orellana said she feels it takes away from progress that is decades in the making.
“It’s five steps backward,” she said. “As Gen Z, we are the accepting progressive generation, and I don’t think we should get rid of that.”
You’ve probably already heard of SpectrUM, but if you haven’t, just know the University of Miami’s
resident LGBTQ+ organization hosts multiple events throughout the year, ranging from an annual
student-run drag show to weekly “Trans Hangouts” and “Ally Series” discussions on relevant topics.
SAVE LGBT Miami
This Miami-based organization has been around since the early 90s and focuses on human rights advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community. Their website offers a resource that watches and explains legislature that affects community issues and provides information on important issues such as judicial diversity, conversion therapy and HIV modernization.
Human Rights Campaign
Created in 1980 to help fund the campaigns of LGBTQ+ friendly candidates, this is the organization behind the famous blue and yellow logo that has become synonymous with support for the community.
Today, it sponsors a number of campaigns that call attention to LGBTQ+ issues, like state laws that
allow healthcare providers that deny service to LGBTQ+ clients.
words_riley doherty, arryanna jordan & sarah perkel. photo_daniella pinzon. design_keagan larkins.