Troubling Trend: South Florida Loses Three Legacy Events

Pride of the Americas parade in 2023. Photo by J.R. Davis.

Losing one major event hurts, but it happens. Losing two could be a disturbing coincidence. Losing three? Well, then it becomes “a thing.”

Over the past few weeks, Gay Ocho/Gay8 and Pride Fort Lauderdale canceled their signature events for 2024, and The SMART Ride rode into the sunset. All three were huge undertakings and all shared the goal to involve the LGBTQ community and allies.

These weren’t annual, highly priced galas or private pool parties. These were events that were accessible to the public.

It would be somewhat comforting if they all succumbed to the same issue, something we could identify and rectify. But all three are gone, each for a different reason.

The SMART Ride was an annual, 165-mile bike trip from Miami to Key West that raised money for HIV/AIDS nonprofits in Florida. Founded by Glen Weinzimer, now a 30+ year HIV/AIDS survivor, the ride raised more than $16 million over its life.

Weinzimer was ready to hand over duties and hired Todd Delmay as the new executive director. Just months later, Delmay took another job and the SMART Ride board decided it was too much for him to do both. Rather than restart the search for a successor, Weinzimer and the board chose to make November’s ride the last.

They also faced generational challenges. Original riders and crew are 20 years older than when they started. Finding new people to crew, ride, and cheer them on, was difficult.

Our Fund Foundation works with many nonprofits. President and CEO David Jobin gave his insight and expertise on these challenges.

“For me, this moment points to a need to educate non-profit boards about their role in providing for an agency through-line and to have a succession plan in place.”

Gay8 was America’s largest Hispanic Pride. Tens of thousands would pack Eighth St., aka Calle Ocho, in the heart of Little Havana. The day had a distinct Miami flavor and served as the LGBTQ version of the heterosexual Calle Ocho street party held in the same area.

In announcing the cancellation, organizers alluded to a lack of civic support from the government. There’s also the fact that a primary organizer of the event, Damian Pardo, was recently elected to the Miami City Commission, the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the job.

Jobin believes the state-led attacks on LGBTQ people and businesses are having an effect.

“It could be argued that the current political climate LGBTQ people face makes each of these agencies as much or more vital than when they were founded. So their exit isn’t the result of lack of relevance or need.”

Pride Fort Lauderdale (PFL) is a different story altogether. For more than a year, they’ve been scaling back events and reeling from one setback after another. After a series of reports exposing their lack of transparency and disorganization, the board resigned, the executive director quit, and sponsors dropped out.

Their Plan B was to cancel 2024 events and partner with businesses on Wilton Drive to expand Pride On the Drive. That event was created as a bandage when PFL failed to have any Friday event on Pride weekend last February.

Beyond their cancellation statement, PFL has offered no comment.

So while there’s no common thread beyond LGBTQ, it’s also a trend that is impacting the community in ways that won’t be felt for months. But when they are felt, it will be painful.

These issues could be avoided or mitigated, according to Jobin. He believes a strong, forward-thinking board is key.

“The Our Fund Foundation plans to gather ... information from grantees in the future to strengthen agencies’ capacity to continue offering vital services when inevitable transitions occur. This is a board of directors issue and shouldn’t be laid at the feet of staff, even founders, who make the decision to move on.”

PFL and Gay8 say they plan or hope to return in 2025. The SMART Ride, as we know it, is finished. However, benefiting agencies and longtime participants are working together to see if they can resurrect it in some form.


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