Wilton Manors is making official what most everyone already knew: the city is a welcoming and safe space for the LGBTQ community.
During the city commission meeting on Sept. 26, they passed Resolution 2023-084, declaring Wilton Manors to be “a welcoming haven for the LGBTQ+ community and their families.” Over the summer, Lake Worth Beach became the first sanctuary city in Florida.
The idea was spearheaded by Commissioner Paul Rolli, who brought it up at a previous meeting, which led to it becoming a resolution. His four colleagues on the dais didn’t need any convincing, and the motion passed unanimously. Wilton Manors has long been a destination for LGBTQ, and is affectionately referred to as “the gayest place on planet Earth.”
That idea is backed up by the large population of LGBTQ residents and the number of queer-owned businesses on Wilton Drive and throughout the city. You also see it in the politics, all four city commissioners are gay, and the mayor is a vocal ally.
After the vote, Rolli said that “the importance of ... being an LGBT+ sanctuary city, is making residents, visitors, and guests aware that Wilton Manors is an affirming and welcoming place.”
Sign Of the Times
While declaring itself a Sanctuary City is largely symbolic, another move is much more visible. The Wilton Manors Police Department introduced the Safe Place Program, which helps LGBTQ victims of hate crimes know where to go for help.
Participating businesses get a large, badge-shaped, rainbow-adorned sticker that reads “Safe Space” to place in their window. Anyone who feels they’re a victim of a hate crime can go in, and safely wait for police.
Wilton Manors resident Jake Valentine says he came across the program while traveling.
“Knowing where you are safe is a very empowering feeling,” Valentine said. “I think the City of Wilton Manors leading this type of program falls in line with what our city is all about.”
He brought the idea to WMPD Chief Gary Blocker, who was on board immediately. Over the summer, Officer Gary Grande spearheaded the initiative. Besides getting the basics, like creating the stickers and other materials, Grande went door to door and talked with businesses. Once he explained that most of them were already safe spaces, most if not all signed up for a decal to add an extra layer of allyship.
WMPD hopes there will be benefits beyond helping people in danger. This is a visible stand against discrimination in all forms and is also a chance for to build more trust between the police and residents.
“This program, suggested by city resident Jake Valentine, underscores the collaboration our city encourages between police and our Greater Wilton Manors area community,” City Commissioner wrote on social media. “The Safe Place Program exemplifies what can be achieved with unity and a shared goal. I'm deeply thankful to Jake Valentine, the WMPD, participating businesses, and all those working to make this a reality. Together, we stand against hate.”
LGBTQ-related hate crimes have been on the rise across the country, and Florida is no exception. Sunshine Cathedral, a queer-affirming church in Fort Lauderdale has been the target twice in 14 months. Much of the hate has found inspiration in vicious, anti-LGBTQ legislation passing throughout the country.
Florida has led the way, with Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rubber-stamp legislature passing bills including “Don’t Say Gay,” book bans, bans on gender-affirming care, and more.