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