LGBTQ Honorees ‘Take Pride’ in Personal, Professional Lives

  • Exhibition on display at Galleria Fort Lauderdale kicks off with opening night reception

Misty “Eyez” Alicea, director of transgender services at SunServe, in her graduation cap and gown at Florida Atlantic University, where in May 2024 she earned two master's degrees. (Photo by Stephen R. Lang/SRL Media, Inc.)

Misty Alicea, a transgender Deerfield Beach woman who began her career two decades ago as a South Beach drag queen, graduated in May from Florida Atlantic University with two master’s degrees.

The all-caps message atop her graduation cap: “VISIBLE FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T BE.”

“You know what?” says Alicea, first known throughout South Florida as performer Misty Eyez. “I have a learning disability. That doesn't mean I can't do it. Yes, I'm overweight. I'm fat. That doesn't mean I can't do it. Yes, I'm transgender. That doesn't mean I can't do it. And I don't let the world tell me that I don't matter because I decide if I matter, and I don't let the world tell me I can't do something because I decide if I can do something.”

Alicea, director of transgender services at SunServe, an LGBTQ-focused mental health center based in Wilton Manors, is one of 10 South Florida arts, culture, business, media and political icons honored throughout June in Take Pride!, a History Fort Lauderdale Pride Month exhibit.

Take Pride! is free, self-guided and on display at Galleria Fort Lauderdale. It depicts 100 years of national, state and local LGBTQ history. A $50 ticketed opening night reception May 30 will celebrate this year’s icons.

“I feel extremely honored. I feel blessed. I also feel surprised,” says Alicea, 48. “I think I'm surprised because I forget that other people can see what I'm doing. I am not braggadocious. I don't post on the internet that I helped 22 people get into houses this month or I helped six homeless people this week. I don't tell people what I'm doing. And I guess I'm surprised when people notice what I'm doing.”

Alicea – who in 1998 “got kicked out” of Oral Roberts University for having premarital sex with a man – just earned master’s degrees in hospital administration and business administration. She says she struggled most of her early life.

“I knew I was a girl at 4, and I knew I was attracted to boys at 9. But I was told I was wrong. And I was told I should be ashamed to be me by people I love. And I had to reprogram my brain,” says Alicea. “So my life mission has been helping other people realize that, yes, you might be different. You might be disabled, you might be black, you might be fat, you might be trans, you might be gay. But you are still an amazing human, and you were created in God's image, and you are just the way you were supposed to be. You need to love yourself, and I'm gonna help you.”

Alicea moved to Miami in 1999, found work as a South Beach club drag queen, and began transitioning in 2000. “I didn't tell people because I was afraid of failing. And I was afraid I'm too tall. And I'm built like a linebacker. And what if I fail and people make fun of me. So, I secretly transitioned behind the drag disguise.”

In 2015, fully out as a trans woman, she met John Alicea “on a straight persons’ app” called Plenty of Fish. “It’s kind of like the straight peoples’ Grindr, I guess.” The couple wed in 2018.

Also in 2015, she joined SunServe. Alicea estimates she’s worked with up to 4,000 clients.

“There's a tissue box on my desk because I have often cried with my clients. A lot of their trauma is trauma that I've already lived with. I relive my trauma occasionally with my clients because I've been there. I've been kicked out of school. I've been kicked out of church. I've been homeless. I've been raped. I have been where they are.”

Most clients seek help after they’ve attempted suicide, she says.

“They come to my office completely broken and defeated. I sit them down, and I just listen, and I talk, and then I get to know them, and I slowly help them pick up their pieces and put their [lives] back together.”

History Fort Lauderdale first presented Take Pride! in 2022 with a smaller exhibit that honored six pioneer drag artists. Last year’s photo exhibit presented “an overall experience for the history of the Pride community here in South Florida,” says Ellery Andrews, the museum’s deputy director.

“It is a growing archive,” says Andrews, 33, who heads up History Fort Lauderdale’s education department. “The earliest materials we have are newspaper clippings roughly from the ’70s, ’80s and forward. With the exhibits that we have going on, we are consistently collecting new materials now. I received a lot of donations from our drag pioneers and from the pioneers last year, giving us photographs and materials on their stories. So, it's been pretty wonderful.”

This year’s photo exhibit features events including the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City; the election of Harvey Milk to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1977 and his City Hall assassination a year later, along with Mayor George Moscone; ACT UP AIDS awareness protests in the late ’80s; and the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples.

The Take Pride! exhibit and honorees are approved by the History Fort Lauderdale board “after a list of names are slated through informal submissions,” according to Andrews.

“Our community is diverse. It's just acknowledging that everybody has something to contribute to the progress of the city and the progress of the county,” she says.

‘THIS IS WHO I AM’

Another honoree this year is Mark Gilbert, longtime board chair of the OUTShine LGBTQ+ Film Festival, which holds 10-day annual events in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. This year’s Broward festival runs Oct. 17 through 27.

“My message has always been – and one of the messages I try to convey at the film festival is – that through film we can see so many elements of what it is to be LGBTQ,” says Gilbert, who came out in the 1990s as a 40-something gay man.

“There was a time in my life when I was married with kids, and living the ‘straight’ life,” says Gilbert, now a grandfather. “After my divorce, it took me a while to acknowledge to others that I was gay and have that sense of pride rather than embarrassment. And again, that's my thing, certainly not anything reflective of being gay.”

Gilbert, a high-tech recruiter who has a sports licensing and marketing background, became known in 2002 as Marky G, host of a Sunday morning LGBTQ talk show at the former Party 93.1 FM station in Hollywood.

“I don't think there's anything special about who I am. But what I might say is that I don't fit the ‘typical’ gay representation. Because I was married. Because I have children. Even grandchildren. Because I was in the sporting goods universe. Because I played sports. … I don't fit that typical mode – if there is such a thing as a typical mode – of what people assume gay people are like,” he says. “Even on my radio show, there were those who accused me of not sounding gay enough. And my answer is always the same: This is who I am, and this is who a lot of us are.”

For years, Gilbert has chaired the LGBTQ film festival – one of the nation’s largest – often helping keep it afloat during hard times.

“The only time I've ever gotten paid is when I've taken on executive director duties for the festival, which has been limited times. I probably worked six hours today for the festival for free.”

‘LIBERATED, LIBERATED’

Honoree Jacqueline Lorber moved from Michigan to South Florida as a teen. She graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1975, attended college, got married young and had a son born with “serious medical challenges,” she says, including type 1 diabetes.

Soon after, she got a job fundraising in Broward and Palm Beach counties for University of Miami School of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Institute.

Living in southwest Broward, Lorber “found public transportation lacking” so in 1993 with a $6,000 personal investment she started a bus company. It quickly grew to 100 employees and 65 vehicles. “I was the exclusive vendor for transportation for Broward County School District extracurricular activities,” says Lorber, who sold the business in 1999 to one of the nation’s largest bus companies.

Lorber, 66, says she identified as a lesbian even before she got married, but stayed safely in the closet.

She came out in 1998. “I was divorced from husband No. 2, and I was socially connecting with people that I knew and there was a spark. After that, it was never going back. It was like a volcano erupting,” she says. “I was liberated, liberated, liberated, liberated. I was finally able to be myself.”

A decade later, Lorber met Sebrina María Alfonso, conductor of the then-struggling Key West Symphony she founded in 1997.

“We started working together, and one thing led to another,” Lorber says. “We were very involved with saving the organization, and through all of that we ended up combining forces and all of our efforts.”

Their work relationship also blossomed into romance.

“She hired me to be the director,” says Lorber. “We got married 10 years ago. So, I'm going into my 15th season with her, and we just fell in love along the way.”

In 2014, Alfonso and Lorber rebranded the company the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. They expanded the symphony’s regular performance schedule to fully include Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, along with growing its subscriber base.

“I like to say that we are kind of the yin and yang of the South Florida Symphony. She is the creative person when it comes to everything artistic. Everything musically, that's her realm, and she exceeds everybody's expectations in terms of all of that artistically,” says Lorber. “And then my job is – the joke is everybody says is what instrument do I play?  And then I answer them, ‘the cash register.’ My job is to raise the money and carry out her vision.”

AN ICONIC ALTER EGO

Shawn Palacious is perhaps the best-known Take Pride! honoree of this year’s group – a local celebrity since the early 1990s as his iconic drag alter ego, Kitty Meow.

“That's how far I go back,” says Palacious, born 53 years ago in the Bahamas. “I was given all these opportunities to perform or go-go dance or just host different events in South Florida. It all started right after I graduated from college and then went on to live in Miami Beach.”

Palacious says he didn’t come out as gay until after he left the Bahamas, where homosexuality is still “an extremely taboo topic.”

“I knew from the very tender age of 1 day that I was gay. However, I did not come into having sexual experiences, obviously, until I turned 18.”

He didn’t interact with other gay people until he moved to South Florida.

“It was not until I started visiting gay establishments,” says Palacious. “The first one was the Copa, which was in Fort Lauderdale. And then we would go over to the Warsaw Ballroom (in South Beach). And those were the times when I was really coming into it and getting my introduction to the LGBTQ+ community.”

He recalls the beginnings of Kitty Meow:

“Drag as we knew it at the time was always big, beautiful hair, rhinestones, bugle-beaded evening gowns, just impeccably female impersonation. And when I came onto the scene, I thought every time I put a wig on, it looked like a chair was on my head. 

“So I wasn't comfortable with creating the illusion of being female. I was more interested in expressing myself artistically,” he says. “That's what gave me a lot of motivation and desire to go out and be creative. We would save all of our Domino's pizza boxes and I would recreate really avant-garde looks.”

Palacious became a celebrity, hosting parties and working the doors at South Florida’s hottest nightclubs.

To work a club door, you had to know who all the other celebrities were, he says, recalling how he studied South Beach papers of the day (Antenna and Wire) and memorized names and faces.

Among the well-known events Kitty Meow hosted: the old White Party HIV/AIDS fundraiser at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Coconut Grove, Florida AIDS Walk and Music Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach, and the first two editions of Take Pride!

Not long ago, Oakland Park publicist Michael Goodman sent a message to Palacious that he wanted to talk about “the kickoff of LGBTQ month at Galleria.”

“Count me in, I'm back,” Palacious responded to Goodman, who then said, “Yes, but I need to speak to you in person because I need to talk to you about something else.”

A few days later, Goodman told Palacious he’d be an honoree, not this year’s host. (That role will be filled this year by local LGBTQ personality FayWhat?! of Happening Out Television Network.) 

Friends and family will travel from the Bahamas to join Palacious at the opening event.

“I get to have a reunion with all of these amazing people I love and I respect. What comes to mind is you absolutely always have to be true to yourself,” he says. “Whether you are wearing glitter, whether you are wearing a purple Afro, whether you are wearing a Tom Ford tuxedo, you absolutely have to be your most authentic self.”

2024 TAKE PRIDE! HONOREES

  • Andy Rogow, artistic director of Island City Stage
  • David Jobin, president/CEO of The Our Fund Foundation
  • Erika Norell, entertainer
  • Jacqueline Lorber, president/CEO of South Florida Symphony Orchestra
  • Josie Smith Malave, chef and on-air host at It’s Happening Out Productions
  • Mark Gilbert, OUTshine Film Festival board chair
  • Misty Alicea (Misty Eyez), transgender advocate and director at SunServe
  • Robert Boo, chief executive officer at Pride Center at Equality Park
  • Shawn Palacious (Kitty Meow), celebrity host
  • Steven Evans, PhD., owner and publisher of OutClique magazine

The event will also feature a Miss Florida F.I. (Female Impersonation) Pageant Wall of Fame, showcasing 53 years of winning titleholders.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Take Pride! opening reception

WHERE: Galleria Fort Lauderdale, near Swarovski, 2414 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 30. The exhibit runs through Sunday, June 30, during regular mall hours.

TICKETS: $50

INFORMATION: historyfortlauderdale.org


Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @steve.rothaus on Threads.

This story was produced by Broward Arts Journalism Alliance (BAJA), an independent journalism program of the Broward County Cultural Division. Visit artscalendar.com for more stories about the arts in South Florida.

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