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(2015 - Spring Issue)


Fort Lauderdale has quickly become the destination in Florida for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travel market.

This has come around in great part due to the local Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau specifically targeting this market, by being the first in the country to have a dedicated department, staff and marketing dollars to support LGBT tourism, as well as integrate LGBT images and messaging into its mainstream marketing initiatives.

There are now more same-sex couples living there than anywhere else in the state, and it’s estimated 15 per cent of the population identifies as LGBT. With a population of around 175,000, the city is at the centre of South Florida’s Broward County, which has nearly two million inhabitants. Broward County has an out-and-proud history of supporting LGBT equality, from being one of the first counties to pass a human rights ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation to electing openly LGBT individuals to office since 1988. And as of January 2015, Florida also became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriages.

An Engaged Community

What this all means is an increased influx of “pink dollars”being generated to the economy. Most of the action happens in the enclave of Wilton Manors, less than a 15-minute drive from the beach. There are numerous restaurants, bars and independent shops all scattered within walking distance along Wilton Drive, the city’s Arts and Entertainment District. In terms of significant tourist sites, there’s the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, with a separate Stonewall Gallery location, as well as a five-acre Pride Centre.

The newly opened World AIDS Museum & Education Centre is the first such entity in the world. Upon entering the main doors a historical timeline of events begins with the first-diagnosed cases of AIDS in the world. Each subsequent two-sided panel then displays images and text describing monumental facts, accompanied by pop culture references of that era. Museum director Ed Sparan states, “Since 1981 there have been 75 million people infected and more than 39 million who have died from AIDS, and this is the only permanent collection in the world.”

The city hosted the first annual Gay Days Fort Lauderdale this past November, with many events taking place at W Hotel Fort Lauderdale, including daily pool parties at the artistically designed oceanfront infinity pool area. There are several other annual events around which to plan a visit, including February’s Evening in Paradise, Stonewall Pride in June, the Halloween-themed Wicked Manors and the Pride South Florida and Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in October. New for 2015 are Gay Family Weekend in November, and the largest transgender conference in North America, the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference from September 29 to October 3.

Broward County, Florida’s second-largest populated county, will celebrate its centenary in 2015 with many special events planned, making this year the perfect time to visit. Broward 100 will commemorate this centennial with bold, innovative art and performance projects framed by four distinct cornerstones of community engagement: VisualEYES, Inside Out Broward, Calendar 100 and Duende.​​​​​Other ongoing arts initiatives can also be found at the Flagler Arts & Technology Village, an evolving four-block creative district north of downtown, and Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District located downtown. ArtServe opened in 1989 as one of the original six arts incubators in the country while the Girls’Club Foundation hosts the only private collection in the world dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art by women.

Urban Regeneration

The downtown area went through a major redevelopment at the turn of this century, especially around Las Olas Boulevard, where high-end restaurants, shops, nightclubs, hotels and luxury condominiums now prevail. This area also provides a great vantage point over the Intracoastal Waterway, which is lined with multi-million-dollar yachts and opulent mansions along Millionaire’s Row. The Lobster Bar Sea Grille is a must-stop for a true Floridian experience, with smatterings of fresh seafood prominently displayed and prepared in the open kitchen. Generous portions of perfectly presented plates have made this a go-to gourmet destination.

There are also more than 150 LGBT-owned businesses and establishments in the region, including Pineapple Point Guest House & Resort, owned by Judd Chapman and Phil Quattrone. This unique men-only property is situated in a quiet residential neighbourhood, not far from the bustling oceanfront. It comprises six distinct buildings with rooms, suites and villas that are intertwined over one hectare of lush tropical paradise of palm trees and pools. The exquisite three-level Grand Villa comes with its own private pool, Jacuzzi, outside tiki bar and a chef’s dream gourmet kitchen. The owners recently announced plans to break ground on a new project in the city, the first of a national chain of independent retirement and assisted-living residences specifically targeted to the LGBT market.

For those who want to be right in the action, the W Hotel is renowned as the hidden playground of the stars and starlets, and this once legendary party central has reinvented itself and emerged on the scene as the hottest comeback to hit the strip. Name dropping is back in a big way. Grab a creative cocktail at the 5th Floor Living Room, owned by Cindy Crawford’s hubby, and then dine at Stephen Starr’s Steak 954 featuring a menu that includes an extensive raw bar, stellar selection of dry-aged beef from handpicked ranches, locally caught seafood and signature dishes.

No visit would be complete without a stop at W’s Bliss Spa with its elegant treatment rooms, retail boutique and private outdoor terrace. Try a Ginger Rub, Hangover Herbie, Betweeny Wax or the famous Triple Oxygen Treatment Facial. Hotel guests also enjoy exclusive Bliss products in their rooms. For further relaxation, the hotel is ideally located within a short walking distance of the famed Sebastian Beach, popular with gay men, as well as Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a sprawling green oasis frequented by locals and visitors.

Urban studies theorist Richard Florida, known for his concept of giving accolades to society’s “creative class”for spearheading urban regeneration, has stated many times that artists and gays are often at the forefront of this revitalization. Fort Lauderdale is one of those success stories of a city that had a vision of reinventing itself, and has now come full circle with those ideologies. To use another analogy, the city has found gold at the end of the rainbow!

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Broward 100: broward.org

Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau: sunny.org 

Dapur Asian Tapas and Lounge: dapurkitchen.com

Lobster Bar Sea Grille: lobsterbarseagrille.com

Mild to Wild Greater Fort Lauderdale: glbt.sunny.org

Mind Your Manors: mindyourmanors.co

Pineapple Point Guest House & Resort: pineapplepoint.com

Rosie’s Bar & Grill: rosiesbng.com

Stonewall National Museum & Archives: stonewallnationalmuseum.org

The Pride Centre: pridecentreflorida.org

W Fort Lauderdale: whotels.com/fortlauderdale

Wilton Manors: mywiltonmanors.com

World Aids Museum and Educational Centre: worldaidsmuseum.com

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