Winter Party - Partying with a Purpose
Most of us know the Winter Party as a gigantic beach party surrounded by parties alongside hotel pools and in clubs throughout Downtown Miami and South Beach. But it's also the conduit through which the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been able to develop and maintain extraordinarily close ties with Miami-Dade's sizable and powerful LGBT community. For the past eight years, the Task Force has worked with local groups and individuals to produce what has become one of the best-known gay events in the country. This year, the Winter Party Festival, a weeklong bacchanalia of parties, dancing, shopping and fun in the warm sun and balmy breezes of South Florida, runs from February 29 to March 5.
Russell Roybal, the Task Force's deputy executive director of external relations, considers the groups' relationship "truly unique. When the organization decided to take over the event, we wanted to make sure the funds we were raising in this community we'd had such a long relationship with since the days of Anita Bryant were given back, so we set up the Miami Foundation" - a volunteer-run organization that distributes grants to LGBT groups in Miami. The Bryant reference goes back to the '70s, when a squeaky-clean singer spearheaded a successful recall of a gay-rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, a major setback that galvanized the gay rights movement.
In the same way the Bryant crusade united Miami and national gay groups, the Winter Party raises money on two levels: Last year, the weeklong celebration doled out $204,000 to local LGBT organizations, while remaining one of the Task Force's two largest fundraisers. Interestingly, the other is an annual October Recognition Dinner honoring LGBT organizations in South Florida. This year, the gala took in a whopping $400,000, a record - especially gratifying, given the abysmal economy.
All together, the Winter Party has grossed $1.2 million since the Task Force took over its management in 2004 and has grown to become one of the most important ways Miami LGBT organizations, as well as the Task Force itself, are funded. The Task Force itself takes a third of the profits - about $100,000 last year.
Money is donated through the Miami Foundation via a grant-writing process. Different organizations submit proposals for receiving funds, with the money going to different groups each year. Funds have benefited the suicide hotline, the Pridelines Youth Services, Safe Schools Florida and Miami Pride, among others.
These funds are especially important, Roybal notes, because they are completely separate from the Task Force, and not subject to the restrictions that federal funding often is: "They get grants for services that government money won't pay for, like backpacks for homeless kids for school, getting pizza for volunteers, or resources to do community organizing."
The party also helps fund the Task Force's overall national budget, which goes to projects such as money for political operations, which cannot be used for charitable purposes - for example, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, which funds on-the-ground organizing around state ballot initiatives. "They are unrestricted dollars, which are the best dollars to have," Royball notes.
But it would never happen if it weren't for the dedicated work of hundreds of volunteers who work alongside a handful of paid Task Force staff members.
It Takes an Army
Leading this army of do-gooders is Festival Co-Chair Chad Richter, himself a volunteer. He oversees in turn the directors of each event, from dance parties, pool parties and tea dances to musical performances and a shopping event on South Beach's storied Lincoln Road - not to forget the signature event, an all-day beach party, with a specially constructed dance floor, DJ booth, pavilions, refreshments and lounge areas, all only a few dozen feet from the Atlantic Ocean.
"It is kind of like a family tree, with different people associated with different events," says Richter of his volunteers. "A lot of the time, events happen because there are requests from guests or someone is passionate about an event and wants to produce it."
Along with the three full-time Task Force employees, the hundreds of volunteers work on steering committees, obtain sponsorships, sell tickets and man the kiosks at the events themselves. This is a year-round effort, with Winter Party Week only the capstone.
Richter predicts the Winter Party will continue its long string of annual successes. As of this writing, the host hotels are already all sold out, including the Surfcomber, whose renovation puts it in the top tier of oceanfront South Beach resort complexes.
Partying In Sun & Clubs
The aptly named Winter Party comes at a particularly opportune time for those of us who labor through the sleet and snow of the "R" months. By late February, who isn't ready to hand in a snow shovel for suntan oil?
The trek to Florida also helps out the local economy immeasurably. Not surprisingly, the city and county are very welcoming. Richter himself serves on the Mayor's Business Gay Enhancement Committee. "Due to the scale, the local LGBT community has achieved significant increased (and very positive) visibility, while advancing the goal of achieving equality in all areas of human rights," enthuses Steven Adkins, head of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Ultimately, what makes the Winter Party stand out is that unique combination of support for local interests as well as national issues through the Task Force. The dual emphasis seems particularly appropriate for the Task Force, which believes that real change comes from grassroots organizing. "It's true to the legacy of the Task Force, which is that we believe that some of the greatest change happens at the state and local level," Roybal says. "For us to be able to connect on this level locally with folks that understand equality is something we have to work at is wonderful. And at the Task Force we like to have a good time raising funds, so the Winter Party (and Recognition Dinner) provides a way to do this grassroots work - and have fun doing it."
For Richter, working for the Task Force means continuing the work that began with the anti-Anita Bryant campaign in the long march to full equality. "The Task Force does such important work for the rights of LGBT Americans," he says. "For us to have any equality or political rights, they are the ones that are going to make this happen. As volunteers, we know firsthand that this is a party with a purpose, and helps the greater work they are doing. It's not even enough money, because they give so much of it back to organizations. But it is a way of furthering their commitment to being a part of the grassroots community, and bettering the place where they have a presence."
'The Hottest Party Under One Sun'
The Winter Party lives up to that motto with a full complement of events that begins with a meet-and-greet at host hotel the Surfcomber on February 29 and ends with an after-party that runs from 5 to 5 - a.m. to p.m., that is - on March 5.
In between, there are dance parties at every one of Greater Miami's major venues and all over South Beach. Among the highlights:
This year, Matinee, the Ibiza-based parties that have become a major scene in New York, will present "Mercury Rising," an all-night-into-morning dance at Space on March 2.
The Saturday (March 2) pool party, always a weekend highlight, once again will happen at the Surfcomber's ultra-glamorous beachfront pool-and-cabana space.
Bring your leather gear for "Sweat" later that night.
Showtime's series on the naughty Renaissance family the Borgias is the inspiration for "Boiling Point: Rome Is Burning" later that night at Cameo, a mega-club in the heart of South Beach.
The capstone of the weekend remains the Winter Party Beach Party, once again at Miami's "gay beach," on 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Sunday, March 4.
For once, women's events are more than an afterthought. Brazilian recording artist Monica da Silva will be featured at a March 4 Women's Brunch, along with women-oriented nighttime dance parties that can hold their own with the men's.
If you need to take a break from all that dancing, there's a museum visit and a shopping day on Lincoln Road.