South Florida is one of the great gay havens in America. Hell, it’s one of the great gay havens of the world. But it’s easy to miss the good stuff.
Understand: South Florida — by which I mean Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties — is basically one big city. From the red-roofed housing developments in south Homestead to the prefab luxury ‘hoods north of Jupiter, SoFla is 130 miles of unbroken urban sprawl. Each town is a universe unto itself. Some of the burgs are full of what used to be called Florida crackers — folks with sawgrass scars and intimate knowledge of gator behavior, who make their livings in and around the primeval Everglades swamp. Those burgs do not incubate much in the way of gay life. Another of the burgs might in fact be the gayest place in the whole world — and if you’re not from here, you probably have never heard of it.
My parents moved to Florida in 1990, when I was 7 years old. Back then, the center of Florida’s licit gay life and nightlife was South Beach. (The illicit center, I’ve heard, was in the darker corners of Alice C. Wainwright Park, in the shadows of the seagrape and palm trees.) South Beach — the glittering, pastel-Deco apotheosis of Miami Beach flash, known ’round the world as the setting for so many excellent late-’90s music videos — had long been a prime destination for sin and decadence because of its weather and its distance from the respectable rest of America. South Beach is still full of debauched nightlife, much of it gay or lavender-tinged. But gentrification, which so often follows gayfolk to their ghettos, nudged much of the gay population out of Miami Beach in the 1990s.