You might say it was a match made in cartoon Hell. A decade and a half ago, David Treece and Luis Gonzalez threw a Halloween block party in Belle Meade that attracted scores upon scores of neighborhood fun-lovers. Since Belle Meade happens to largely swing a certain way, a large part of the party-goers were either lesbian or gay.
After a few years of ever increasing crowds the couple decided to start charging to get into the party and giving all the proceeds to an organization everyone could believe in. The outfit the partners chose to partner with was known as Save Dade. Another year or two, and even more scores of party-goers, David and Luis handed over the reins to the event, and ever since that day Save Dade and Halloween have become virtually synonymous.
According to Save Dade Executive Director CJ Ortuno, the holiday has become part the organization’s DNA, and continuing the tradition only makes absolutely perfect sense.
“Yes, Halloween’s long been known as the gay and lesbian holiday,” Ortuno told SunPost Weekly by phone earlier this week. “It’s a great way for the community to come together and express themselves in all kinds of extravagant and elaborate ways. Save Dade’s been throwing these massive affairs for so long, it’s now part of our lineage. ”
Ortuno, whose background includes stints at Hands on Miami and the United Way, happens to be straight. But in the two+ years he’s been at the helm of Save Dade, his orientation has never been an issue. In fact, his predecessor Heddy Pena was also straight.
“You’ll find a lot of straight women running LGBT organizations,” he said, “though perhaps not as many straight men. Of course there are many straight men among the ranks of volunteers. But it’s pretty much a non-issue either way. If you support the cause, you support the cause, no matter what your orientation. And I’ve always been a big supporter of equal rights.”
Ortuno came to Save Dade after the organization had run a nationwide executive search, and he beat out thousands of candidates for the position. But though an impressive CV got him the job; the fact that he and his wife Charlene also happen to be longstanding fans of the Halloween block party was what got him into the spirit – well, a certain holiday spirit anyway. And since this year’s theme is Circus of Lost Souls, the two will be decked out as ringleaders.
The event is called Hellrotika and it’ll all take place amid the expansive confines of The Awarehouse. The spooky site says the event will be “part traveling carnival, part circuit party,” and “like no other Halloween event in Miami.” With a “bizarro mix of macabre circus performers, wacked-out burlesque dancers, and [a] hellsex costume contest MC’d by Hellrotika ringleader Michael Martini,” we can’t help but to agree. But as wild as the night promises to be, it is the cause that most tickles our scary bone.
For those new to Save Dade its Mission is simple and clear: “to promote, protect and defend equality for people in Miami-Dade County who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” And since 1993 the organization has employed a variety of methods to ensure their Mission gets accomplished.
Those methods include everything from political advocacy to consulting with County officials over particulars in Miami-Dade schools’ curriculum, as Save Dade did after the recent spate of gay teen suicides.
“With sexual minority liaisons in every secondary school, “explains Ortuno, “Miami-Dade County’s school system is unique in all the state. But we felt that their anti-bullying policy was missing a few pieces. So Save Dade got with Sexual Minority Director Suzy Milano-Berrios and had the County actually list the categories which would be covered. Now the policy includes all LGBT and transgender categories, from orientation, expression and gender identity, as well as race.”
As anyone who survived high school will tell you, kids can be downright cruel, especially to those whose predilections confuse them. Bullying, however, is only one of the more visible among a litany of problems sometimes suffered by LGBT youth. And Save Dade is intent on addressing – and correcting – each and every one of them. That’s why when Vice President Joe Biden was in town recently stumping for US Senate Candidate Kendrick Meek and three Save Dade operatives got to meet him, Field Officer David Valk slipped the Second-in-Command a letter imploring the man to not give up the good fight.
“Vice President Biden,” read the letter, in part, “I want – so desperately – to believe that I am part of a young generation that will never face the pains of discrimination experienced by generations-past, but I know this is not true. The challenges faced by today’s youth are tremendous. In this day and age, suicide among LGBTQ youth remains rampant. Issues of poverty and homelessness – these are the struggles we often overlook when considering the needs of gay and lesbian youth.”
Ortuno, who was on hand for the meeting, said that the gist of Valk’s missive insisted that Biden “stay strong,” and to “not let his foot off of the throttle.”
“The Vice-President has been one of the most loyal and vocal proponents of LGBT youth,” he continues. “And while we applaud that; we don’t want him to forget that there’s still much work to be done.”
It’s work that Save Dade is not afraid to tackle head-on, including on Election Day, for which they’ve issued an entertaining and spot-on PSA entitled “Don’t Vote” that gives you every reason in the world to not do just that.
“Vote. Fight. Win. Now. Take charge of your future through voting,” runs the close of the clip, after a rainbow coalition of advocates list the risks of sitting on the sidelines come November 2nd.
As Save Dade’s site so succinctly sums up: “Your vote can make the difference between electing a pro-equality candidate, or letting in a candidate who will work to eliminate the freedom we’ve fought so hard to gain.” And if that’s not a reason to cast a ballot, well, perhaps there is no reason at all. Something you may wish to remember as you’re scrubbing off the pancake make-up you slathered over your face for Hellrotika.