Pride Fort Lauderdale Refuses to Give Donor Money Back After Festival Cancelation

  • Update on March 16 at 6:45 p.m.: The original story stated OutSFL did not receive a response from anyone from the organization. It turns out that's not correct. Volunteer Director Robyn Ludy emailed the reporter on March 1 but it ended up in his junk folder. Ludy's response does not change the substance of the story, but in order to be transparent we are issuing this update. Ludy's response reads "Thanks for reaching out. I was in attendance the day John Michael donated to Pride Fort Lauderdale, however there was no mention of where or how the donation needed to be spent. We wish John Michael the best. He was a great volunteer for us and he will be missed." 

John Michael Gordon, the donor. Photo via Facebook.

“There is no money.” That’s the message Pride Fort Lauderdale has for John Michael Gordon, a local massage therapist who donated $1,000 to the 2024 festival. Gordon asked for his money back when the organization canceled the main event for this year.

In a text message exchange with Gordon, Volunteer Director Robyn Ludy of PFL said, “There is no money, which is why we are not doing our normal festival.”

Gordon has been a longtime supporter of PFL and donated the money after last year’s festival wrapped up.

You may not know Gordon by name, but you’d probably recognize his face. As a person devoted to Wilton Manors and the LGBTQ community, he’s a frequent volunteer at events taking tickets, setting up, tearing down, and more.

If you’re lucky, you’ve been massaged by his skilled hands as a licensed massage therapist and owner of Relax In Peace LMT Massage.

Gordon made the donation in March 2023 during an appreciation party for volunteers from the Pride of the Americas (POTA) parade and festival a few weeks earlier. POTA was organized by Pride Fort Lauderdale and replaced the normal PFL festival for 2023.

Gordon told OutSFL PFL didn’t ask for the money, and there was no promise of reciprocity, or guarantee of how the money would be used. However, he did tell them the donation was for Pride’s 2024 parade and festival.

OutSFL reached out to Pride Fort Lauderdale through their website, as well as PFL President Miik Martorell, Ludy, and executive director Ernie Yuen through Facebook, for comment. Only Ludy's responded. 

"Thanks for reaching out. I was in attendance the day John Michael donated to Pride Fort Lauderdale, however there was no mention of where or how the donation needed to be spent," Ludy wrote in an email. "We wish John Michael the best. He was a great volunteer for us and he will be missed."

Delays & Cancelations, But No Refunds

Weeks after PFL canceled its 2024 festival Gordon reached out to people he considered friends at the organization and asked for his money back.

“When they ended up canceling until 2025, I waited and waited and waited for a couple of months to see what they would say.” Gordon said. “They just canceled and took the money.”

According to Gordon, he reached out to Martorell who was with PFL’s leadership team on a trip to Las Vegas, texting, “I know you are on your way to Vegas. Just want to let you know I gave you the $1,000 last year for 2024 Pride and now that it’s not happening I would like the money back soon after you get back.”

Martorell left him a voicemail and then had Volunteer Director Robyn Ludy deal with him. Gordon quickly sensed he was getting the runaround.

Gordon replied to her texts saying he wanted to deal with Martorell. Ludy instead responded, “John Michael. It’s me and we are friends. Please allow me to call you tomorrow. I wish you would let me know what’s going on.”

Then she went on the defensive. Ludy said Martorell, not PFL, was paying for the Vegas trip, and told him, “Whatever your assumption is, it’s wrong. I’m sorry you are upset with me or us.”

She went on to claim PFL was still happening, “But it is happening, just differently. We are hosting two events at Hunters, and we are having a Bear Party.”

Differently is an understatement.

Ludy later replied: “You gave us money for the organization, and now you want it back? Do you not see a problem with that?”

‘There Is No Money’

PFL has said it is working to be more visible in the community all year long, and launched its Pride365 initiative. That includes smaller events like bingo, pet pride, and pool parties.

That’s when Ludy, in a text message, made the admission. “There is no money which is why we are not doing our normal festival.”

This isn’t the first time PFL has taken money and refused to return it. POTA barely happened, and came amidst the entire board leaving and sponsors pulling out. When Midland/CAN asked for their $75,000 to be returned, Martorell first said he would work with them to figure out a resolution before saying PFL is under no obligation to return the money and would not do so.

Gordon said he didn’t go public with his story until he ran out of options with PFL. He told OutSFL that he would have worked with them and been happy if he could have had his logo on a banner or promotional materials for the less-than-profitable Pride365 events.

But, no offer was made.

Rubbed The Wrong Way

One thousand dollars is a lot of money for most people. Gordon is a successful entrepreneur but not a highly paid CEO, and said he spends a lot of time on his feet massaging clients to make that kind of money.

Sadly, he knows how this story ends. “I'm obviously not going to get it.”

It’s been more than a month since Gordon reached out, privately and respectfully, to Martorell.

But despite his bad experience with PFL, Gordon is still in love with his community. You’ll still see him out and about volunteering, enjoying, and cheering everyone on, even Pride Fort Lauderdale.

“I love them, I wish them well. But I’m going to love them and wish them well from afar.”


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