Attending the first edition of Gay Days Fort Lauderdale will be similar to sailing on a cruise ship. At least that’s how the event’s president and owner, Chris Alexander-Manley, feels about it.
“There’s so many different activities that you can choose from and be entertained,” Alexander-Manley says. “We want to give people that alternative to get away from bad weather and enjoy the beaches, and a whole other part of what Florida offers.”
The event will begin Tuesday, Nov. 25, with a kickoff party at Rock Bar, and run until Monday, Dec. 1. It will feature pool and evening parties, food tastings and dinners, a softball tournament, silent auctions and a business expo.
Many of the events, including the pool parties and the expo, will take place at the W Fort Lauderdale hotel, which is hosting Gay Days, but bars and restaurants around the city also will participate. Admission to some events will be free.
“We don’t want to sell a package that you’re stuck with and have to do everything,” says Alexander-Manley, who lives in Orlando. “We motivate people to really see a little bit of all that Fort Lauderdale has to offer, not just the beaches, although that’s what our focus is.”
Gay Days will feature four pool parties from Thursday through Sunday, at the W Fort Lauderdale. They are free for Florida residents who arrive with an ID before noon, though the first pool party on Nov. 27 is free for locals all day long. All pool parties are free for guests of the hotel. They’ll run from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m., and each party will feature two DJs, including DJ Chi Chi La Rue, the drag-queen persona of pornographic movie director Larry David Paciotti.
The softball tournament will run from Thursday through Saturday at Mills Pond Park, and end with an award ceremony on Sunday at the W Fort Lauderdale.
Gay Days began as a grassroots movement in 1991, when members of the LGBT community visited Disney World’s Magic Kingdom while wearing red to make themselves visible.
“Gays are very invisible sometimes,” Alexander-Manley says. “People assume they know who gays are by the stereotypes, but we’re everywhere. We are every community. We are every race. We’re every religion. We’re every age.”
Gay Days has since expanded to Las Vegas and now, Fort Lauderdale.
“I’ve always considered doing a wintertime event, especially with the bad winters we’ve had in the last few years,” Alexander-Manley says. “When I was looking at cities that might be possible, Fort Lauderdale just jumped out.”
In its first years, the event attracted mostly gay men, but Alexander-Manley says the demographics changed as they began targeting lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.
“It’s about 30 to 35 percent women, and 60 to 65 percent male,” he says. “All our events are welcoming to everybody. But then, sometimes, we’ll have specific female events or Latin events.”
Alexander-Manley says Gay Days is about creating a comfortable environment for the LGBT community.
“Sometimes, it’s fun to be the majority,” he says. “You know that you can just be yourself and not risk someone screaming or attacking you.”
Day Gays Fort Lauderdale will run from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1 at the W Fort Lauderdale,401 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. For a full schedule of events, go to GayDays.com.