Publisher’s Perspective: Big Year for Big Events

By : Tom Dyer
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TomDyerHeadshotWe live in an area rich with options. There are gay churches, community centers and more than 50 gay and gay-friendly bars, nightclubs and restaurants. And there’s an organization or athletic league catering to just about every interest imaginable.

But there are four major events that have come to define the huge local LGBT communities in Tampa Bay and Orlando. The last of them just wrapped, so it’s a good time to take stock.

Gay Days Weekend
This event the biggest annual multi-day gathering of gays and lesbians in the nation will celebrate its 21st year in 2012. It takes place the first weekend in June, and attracts an estimated 150,000 to celebrations at Orlando-area attractions, hotels and bars. Although there is no single planning entity, GayDays.com is the biggest player. Established promoters like Girls in Wonderland, Mark Baker Presents, Let’s Go Play/Riptide and the Parliament House provide additional juice.

With that level of experience and continuity, Gay Days Weekend is on solid ground for 2012 and the future. The GayDays.com and Girls in Wonderland hotels and events routinely sell out. Last year Riptide attracted more than 6,500 the biggest crowd ever to Typhoon Lagoon. Mark Baker reestablished the huge Buena Vista Palace as circuit party central. And with a star-packed lineup, the Parliament House was bursting at the seams all weekend.

Most intriguing, and potentially game-changing, is Disney’s role in the future of Gay Days Weekend. The event started as a gathering in front of Cinderella’s Castle, but attendance at Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom has dropped in recent years. In fact, with the exception of Riptide at Typhoon Lagoon, much of Gay Days Weekend now bypasses Disney. Disney knows it, and if they were willing to open their arms just a little they could change it.

GayDays.com is looking for a bigger hotel with a better party pool. Imagine the impact if Disney would allow them to block one of their huge moderately priced hotels for Gay Days Weekend. What if they also lured Mark Baker back to their Hollywood Studios attraction for his big Saturday night party, currently held at Universal Studios? All of Walt Disney World would change from the most magical place on earth to the most fabulous place on earth that first weekend in June. And the trajectory for Gay Days Weekend would be set for the next decade.

St. Pete Pride
Like a bookend to Gay Days, the biggest Pride event in Florida takes place the last weekend in June, drawing as many as 90,000 to the LGBT-friendly Grand Central District of St. Petersburg. St. Pete Pride is run by an experienced and universally respected executive director, backed by an active and engaged board. In 2012 the theme is Carnivale 10 Years of Pride in Paradise. The future looks solid.

It’s a source of, well, pride that the event takes place on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the birth of the modern-day LGBT rights movement despite sweltering heat that reaches the mid-90s by the end of the Promenade. But therein lays St. Pete Pride’s biggest challenge. The event has to be held in the morning to avoid predictable afternoon rains. How best to capitalize on the tens of thousands that have converged on beautiful St. Petersburg for the rest of the day and weekend?

Georgie’s Alibi and The Flamingo Resort have stepped up nicely, holding hugely popular parties that are becoming legendary. Last year Watermark and ALandCHUCK.travel had success luring Pride attendees to St. Pete Beach.

My suggestion? Get the city, county and visitors bureau more involved. Take advantage of the Central Avenue Trolley system to extend festivities to the cosmopolitan downtown and glorious waterfront parks. Create a shuttle system to connect Pride to The Flamingo, Gulfport and the beaches. And get beachfront hotels like The Postcard Inn, Sirata and Tradewinds to offer discounts to Pride attendees.

Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
Started in 1990 as a three-day event, TIGLFF is now one of the ten largest LGBT film festivals in the nation, attracting as many as 15,000 to the beautiful Tampa Theatre and other venues in early October. It is run by a creative, competent and well-connected board. TIGLFF is a respected event, with solid support from the City of Tampa and a devoted core audience. Its challenges are cultural, not organizational.

When TIGLFF first began, it was an exciting novelty to watch films about gay people, especially in a crowded downtown movie theater with hundreds of other gay people. Now there are two LGBT cable channels three if you include Bravo. Dozens of LGBT-themed movies are available there, or on Netflix or the Internet, just months after release. And television is now peppered with LGBT characters.

TIGLFF can’t compete on that level and shouldn’t try. In fact, in an attempt to fill an 11-day schedule and appeal to a broad spectrum of moviegoers, many of the selections are weak.

But TIGLFF offers the opportunity to experience them together and to gather before and afterward to talk about LGBT film and culture. That shared cultural experience should be cultivated, and I suspect the current board is already working on it.

Come Out With Pride
The rain-delayed event on Nov. 13 was impressive on so many levels. Organizers managed to sustain enthusiasm for six weeks and attract a big and very happy crowd to what has to be one of the prettiest Pride locations in the country. Fireworks provided huge bang for the buck, blanketing the entire downtown area in the celebration.

With a crack core organizational team returning, and tremendous goodwill created by their efforts in 2011, COWP is off and running in its seventh year and should rival St. Pete Pride in attendance. A suggested tweak: pace the post-parade festivities at the Walt Disney Amphitheater so that they crescendo into dancing and partying before the spectacular nighttime fireworks.

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