Bringing a Queer Event to Little Havana

Damian Pardo

Damian Pardo, LGBTQ Activist

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By: Ian Maloney

Every once in a while, a community hero comes along and really changes the game for a group of people. For folks in Little Havana and for Miami’s LGBTQ community, one of those people is Damian Pardo, a local businessman and activist who dared to dream of a queer event outside of gay-friendly Miami Beach.

Pardo, who is a Miami native of Cuban and Spanish descent, wanted to show the greater community what he and his diverse group of friends already understood: that we are much more united than is portrayed and that our diversity as a community at large, not just within the LGBTQ community, is something we should come together to celebrate. “I see my role as just one of many people who care about our South Florida community, its issues, our progress and prosperity and our overall well-being," says Pardo. "Specific to the LGBTQ community I see my role as someone who transitions between many communities, understands business and non-profit organizations, and has a solid background in helping to organize community and work toward a purpose. “

In 2013, Pardo was having a cafecito in Little Havana with his friend Joe Cardona, when the two began wondering how to bring the LGBTQ community and its straight allies together along with the amazing vibrant culture that Little Havana has to offer. They wanted to highlight the sounds, the food, the arts and theatre to show that the LGBTQ community is everywhere in every single neighborhood in Miami. Thus Gay8 (pronounced Gay Ocho) was born. With a massive amount of legwork, the first Gay8 Festival took place in 2014 and was a raging success. Not surprisingly, it has continued to grow each year since. “We originally set out to create an event that brought the different South Florida communities together,” says Pardo.

For the first few years Gay8 was a lot like other festivals that shut down the neighborhood’s famous Calle 8 (SW 8th Street), just with a rainbow flair, and perhaps a few more guys with their shirts off. Thanks to Pardo’s hard work along with the team he has built to organize the event, however, Gay8 has become much more than just a street party. “This community is important to me because there is so much work to do," says Pardo. "There are so many important community issues like climate, homelessness, addiction, education, immigration, transgender rights, etc. with little attention and/or understanding. These issues affect all of us. To the extent that community interest and resources are lacking, we all pay a heavy price.” The Gay8 Festival is a platform. It’s meant to be a fun-filled day with the purpose of directly or indirectly connecting diverse communities, spurring intellectual curiosity or just creating a safe space to enjoy your day. There are hundreds of events in Miami - Gay8 Festival was not started to just be another money-making venture for business. It was very intentionally developed to help us learn about each other and spend time together.

"I believe it has been so successful because when people come, they are genuinely surprised with who shows up - all kinds of people from all walks of life," says Pardo. "Many people reference a ‘happiness, lightness or love in the air’ - I think that’s because when they see the streets filled with so many people from all walks of life, it just automatically gives them hope we can all move forward together. The future looks good. The community is maturing, addressing more issues head on and building more bridges with other groups. There is a lot of work to do so to the extent more people get involved, the brighter the prospects.”

Thanks to community members like Damian Pardo, Greater Miami is a better place for all. His selfless dedication to the causes the area faces make him someone who should be emulated. He helps bridge the gap between all the groups that make Miami such a beautiful place to live and visit.

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