The third annual event will be presented from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, on Calle Ocho (between 14th and 17th avenues) in Little Havana.
“All of South Florida is so divided,” says Damian Pardo, who co-produces the festival with his friend Joe Cardona. “We mix everyone up for just one day and it’s free, so it’s accessible.”
That mix was important to them from the beginning recalls Cardona, a filmmaker. “Damian and I were sitting in Little Havana one day … bellyaching about Trump [during the presidential campaign],” Cardona says. “And suddenly we said, ‘Let’s do something that really defies the segregated America this administration seems to tout.’ ”
“We’re best friends,” Cardona says of his relationship with Pardo. “He’s gay, and I’m not. But other than that, we’re the same. We watch the same things. We talk about the same things. He’s my daughter’s godfather. I think that is what this is about, dispelling myths.”
In 2016, the first festival drew 17,000 attendees. Last year, Gay8 drew 34,000. This year, the festival will include live music from Son Lokos, Lucy Grau and Marytrini. The list of DJs spinning includes Sinna-G, Alex Ramos, A.J. Ready, DJ Jane, Guy DeGiacinto, Alex Ferbeyre and DJ Otto. There will also be food trucks, merchant booths, a sandwich contest, film screenings, fashion shows, dance parties, literary events and walking tours of Little Havana.
“And this year, brand-new, we have the doggie village,” says Pardo, a financial consultant. “It’s got an obstacle course for dogs. It’s really cool. We think people will really like it. We also have a beer garden this year. And we also have an area that’s just for an art exhibit. We’re highlighting Cuban and Latin art, which is in one of the buildings right near the main stage.”
The festival has an annual theme. Last year, it was gun violence. This year’s theme is immigration. The inaugural year it was people who help move the South Florida community forward, which led to another part of Gay8: the Pa’Lante Awards. “Pa’Lante” is Spanish slang for “para adelante,” which means “to push or move forward.” This year, the awards ceremony will begin 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, in the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center at 1465 SW Eighth St. Tickets cost $100.
Cardona says that he’s already seen progress.
“I remember the first year there was a police officer looking at the line for barbecue,” Cardona recalls. “And he said, ‘Hey, Joe, you think all those guys are gay?’ I said, ‘Yeah, probably.’ And he said, ‘Man, they look just like us.’ I think that was his a-ha moment. Well, last year, the police show up with the rainbow on their caps that they had printed on their dime. They came to our festival and they encountered something I think they were surprised to see. And that’s what it’s all about, breaking that myth.”