Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 08 December 1997

Florida's Gay and Lesbian Scholar

From Jesse's Journal

By Jesse Monteagudo


Editor's Note: I first met Jesse Monteagudo in 1976. He knocked on the door of The Pink Coconut, a garage top apartment I shared with Florida's Logan Carter, the legendary androgynous entertainer who made gender-shock history on the stages of the South.

Jesse and I became immediate friends.

Still retaining faint hints of a Latino accent, Jesse is as much a loyal South Floridian as I've ever met. Through the decades, in my estimation, he has remained Florida's foremost male gay and lesbian scholar. Luckily, he shares his knowledge of gay and lesbian literature with GayToday. Prominent lesbian publishers also agree that perhaps Jesse Monteagudo knows more about lesbian writers than any other male in America.

He has also been a faithful pillar, upholding South Florida's gay activist scene. For well over a decade he has lived happily with his music-making lover, Michael, and together they've helped shape South Florida's gay communities.

Eleven years ago, Jesse Monteagudo invited me to speak at the first annual meet of The Stonewall Library, Florida's lesbian and gay archives. Today, it is a pleasure to introduce Jesse to GayToday's audience, as he recalls the life he's enjoyed as a community organizer in the Sunshine State. Following, a page from Jesse's Journal:

I moved to Miami in 1964, when I was eleven, and lived there till 1978, just before I turned twenty-five. My years in Miami were formative ones for me, as a man, a gay man, a writer and an activist, and allowed me to take part in the single most important event in South Florida's gay history, Dade County's 1977 "gay rights" referendum.

I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1978, shortly before Broward County's lesbian and gay community overtook Dade's counterpart socially, economically and politically. Thus I was fortunate enough to live in each county at the right time, and to be an active or passive witness of many of the important events in their respective gay histories. (Though Dade voters decided to change the name of their county to "Miami-Dade" County, I will continue to refer to it as "Dade", for the sake of convenience and brevity.)

Though I changed my place of residence to Broward County almost two decades ago, I retain ties of interest and affection with Dade County. My biggest link with Dade County, of course, is la familia: my mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephews, niece and assorted uncles, aunts and cousins who continue to call the Miamis home. I served on the Board of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights from 1978 to 1980, and of Congregation Etz Chaim at a time when it was still located in Aventura.

For most of the past twenty years, I have contributed to TWN, a Miami-based publication whose interests (like my own) cover both counties. I have a greater interest in, and knowledge of, the politics of Miami than those of my current place of residence, Plantation -- Miami politics are so much more fun! Even today I come across people who presume that I still live in Miami, such is the way that my life has been linked to that of the Magic City. But I am not a Miamian, nor am I a Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, or Broward boy.

I am a South Floridian.

Broward County gays and lesbians who brag about their superiority to their brothers and sisters "south of the border" forget that, until 1980 or so, Dade County's gay life was superior in every respect to that of Broward. Miami and Miami Beach had thriving gay communities when Fort Lauderdale was a vast wasteland as far as we were concerned.

The Broward Coalition for Human Rights began as an echo of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights -- they even shared Bob Kunst as a founder -- and it was nothing for Broward County activists to drive south to help the cause in Miami. If Dade County gays ever went north, it was to let our hair down, enjoy ourselves, and take advantage of Fort Lauderdale's notorious party atmosphere. It was only with the emergence of the Tuesday Night Group that Broward County developed its own characteristic brand of activism.

What made Dade and Broward Counties increasingly different as the 80s rolled by was demographics, mainly the Hispanic migration into Dade and the white flight out of Dade.

The Cuban Exodus changed Miami from a white, southern, conservative town to a white, Cuban, conservative town (most Cubans of color remained in Cuba). At the same time, the migration of white northerners, primarily Jews, into Broward turned this county into a liberal, Democratic enclave in an increasingly conservative, Republican state. Gay professionals who moved to Broward County for other reasons found out that they could exercise their clout, first economically and then politically. The Tuesday Night Group, where the "g-word" was never mentioned, led to the Dolphin Democratic Club, where politicians learned to pronounce the word correctly, to embrace us, and to seek our vote. Though a move to add sexual orientation to Broward's Human Rights Ordinance failed at the polls in 1990, it was passed by the County Commission in 1995, where it remains until this day.

While the course of lesbian and gay rights continued to progress in Broward County, it got nowhere in Dade County. The electoral repeal of Dade's Human Rights Ordinance was a disaster from which Miami's gay community never recovered. The Dade County Coalition fizzled out in the early 80's and its successors -- the Dan Bradley Democratic Club, Dade Action PAC and SAVE could not duplicate the Coalition's early successes.

AIDS killed off much of Dade's gay leadership, and they were not replaced by new leaders, as was the case in Broward. Though lesbians and gay males created a large, visible and increasingly influential enclave in South Beach, they could not export their clout across Biscayne Bay. The Dade County Commission's refusal to even consider sexual orientation rights in 1997 is a sad reminder of how powerless Dade County gays (outside of Miami Beach) are as a group.

The relative success of Broward County's lesbian and gay community, compared to its Dade counterpart, explains why South Florida's queer center of gravity moved north, and why many "South Florida" groups are actually Broward County groups. It does not excuse the condescending attitude many Broward gays hold towards their brothers and sisters "south of the border". Like Miamians who carried on in Fort Lauderdale in the seventies, Broward gays now visit Miami mainly to enjoy the fleshpots of SoBe, find a nice Latin boy to screw, and then go home.

Otherwise, we ignore Dade County completely. For years Pride South Florida, in spite of its name, held all of its Pride events in Broward County; and it took a Dade County group, the Miami Pride Coalition, to bring Pride celebrations back to Miami. Other groups that claim to serve both counties are also, for all intents and purposes, Broward organizations. Thus I find it encouraging that gay Miamians are starting their own, home-grown political and social organization. Lesbian and gay liberation in Dade County must be the work of those who live there.

So what's better, Dade or Broward? Though Broward wins hands down politically, it is a toss-up socially and culturally. Broward has a countywide ordinance, the largest MCC east of Dallas, leather bars, Women In Network, the Stonewall Library and Winter Gayla. Miami-Dade has Haulover Beach, Latin groups, the Lavender Salon, the Alliance Cinema, the White Party, and TWN. But what is best about all of these things (except the countywide ordinance) is that they can be enjoyed by folks in both counties. Our lesbian and gay tourists enjoy the best that Dade and Broward has to offer, and so can we. So let us respect our differences, work together when we need to, and enjoy each other's company and community. Those of you who live in Broward County and did not go down to Dade for Miami Pride missed a great party.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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