South Beach: Hate Crimes Soar, Gays Flee

The spiraling down of the formerly fast glittering gay life in South Beach has been discussed on this blog many times over the years. This week the Miami News Times published a lengthy feature on the issue, citing not only the greatly diminished gay nightlife there, but a parallel and frightening spike in the number of violent hate crimes.

In the span of two months — inside a small South Beach radius — at least three violent attacks against gay men have taken place. One victim was a European tourist who walked away with bruises. Another was a popular club owner’s boyfriend, who was told, “Get out of here, fag” before an attack. The violence is a symbol of what the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) circle has felt for years: South Beach isn’t the free-spirited haven of gayness it once was. According to state records, 75 percent of countywide gay hate crime in the past year occurred in Miami Beach, a place the rest of the world sees as a big, happy gay rainbow. In a five-year span, the State Attorney’s Office reported 26 incidents, half of which were in Miami Beach. Victims include a lounge singer who was stripped naked and hogtied and a magazine publisher who was viciously beaten.

Fort Lauderdale/Wilton Manors is where many have fled.

As Fort Lauderdale moved away from its raucous spring break image, city officials took note of the new demographic. Gays and lesbians — most of whom are childless — had extra money to spend. So the town began to court gay club owners with this offer: Set up shop where parking is easier, leases are cheaper, and tourists are everywhere. By 2006, Fort Lauderdale ranked number six nationally for gay travelers, according to the city’s tourism board, surpassing Miami. The following year, gay vacationers accounted for about $800 million in tourist dollars — 11 percent of the city’s annual tourism-based income. Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors now claim 150 gay-owned shops and establishments. The area also hosts the largest PrideFest in the state, with more than 40,000 attendees and 250 vendors, many of them corporations.

Other than the alarming hate crimes issue, none of this is breaking news to regular JMG readers, but the article is worth the read at least for its history of SoBe nightlife. One quibble, the Warsaw Ballroom didn’t open in 1992, that was 1989, when I was going there three nights a week.