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A Trip to Wilton Manors and Stonewall Museum
by St. Sukie de la Croix

This article shared 7663 times since Sun Mar 17, 2013
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Wilton Manors is a 1.94-square-mile gay resort/retirement village in what Wikipedia calls the "Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area."

I recently visited friends there, to look at the price of property, and to escape, albeit briefly, the Chicago winter. The price you pay for living in this Midwestern metropolis—in my opinion, Chicago is the most vibrant and beautiful city in the world—is five months a year of nut-freezing, gray-sky drabness, leading to SAD (Seasonal Adjustment Disorder) and suicidal thoughts.

I recently slipped on the ice, smacked onto the sidewalk, hit a post and bruised myself on the way down. But instead of belting out Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field's "Pick yourself up, take a deep breath, dust yourself off, and start all over again," I lay prostrate next to a filthy snow-bank praying a truck would skid off the road and put me out of my misery. I'd reached a breaking point Chicagoans know so well, when you stare up at the dismal sky and say, "OK you win! I'm locking myself in the house until May! You win!"

I was in Florida to weigh up the pros and cons of becoming a snowbird, spending summers in Chicago and winters in Wilton Manors, or "Wilted Flowers" as Armistead Maupin calls it in his book Michael Tolliver Lives. I'm familiar with Florida weather as DisneyWorld is a second home to me, but I'd never visited the "Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area" before. I admit, I've never had a high opinion of Florida, as I view it as a graveyard with lights:

Question: What's the difference between Florida and yogurt?

Answer: Yogurt has live culture.

If TV news is to be believed, which it isn't, the residents of Florida are prone to leaving their babies to boil in locked cars in Walmart parking lots, and it's a place where wives hire hit men to kill their husbands, handing over the cash in—you guessed it—the aforementioned Walmart parking lots. Then there's the issue of gay rights. What can you say about a state that, on Nov. 6, 2008, enshrined homophobia into their constitution by banning same-sex marriage and civil unions? "Fuck you, Mary!!" that's what you say about it. Yet, here I was wearing a vintage Dior light blue flower hat, Gaultier shades, and swinging a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag I found in a dumpster, trolling around Wilted Flowers looking at property with a view to escaping Chicago winters for three-to-five months a year.

Wilton Manors is a paradise, with the highest percentage of gays to straights in the country, mostly men, with a sprinkling of lesbians to season the dish. Lesbians prefer New Hampshire. Why? I don't know. Go to Bethlehem, N.H. in January and the place is packed with frozen lesbians. Maybe they like defrosting each other. I'm just guessing.

Anyway, in Wilton Manors, the streets are small, lined with mostly one-floor houses, with ramshackle gardens, rainbow flags and wind chimes. In the early morning you can see gays nibbling toast on their patios and waving "hello" as you pass. It reminded me of Key West, but with tarmac down and no roosters running around in the street.

In 1566, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and his men landed near Miami and decimated the Tequesta Indians with smallpox. Bastards!! Sadly, lizards, snakes and other swamp-things were immune to the disease, and are still slithering in the undergrowth in Wilton Manors. I'm not big on reptiles. However, I did fall in love with the wild parrots. I also fell in love with Hollywood Beach, the Boardwalk is exquisite, where seniors with gym bodies jog and ride bicycles. If you turn your back on the ocean, face inland and close your eyes and inhale, you can almost smell the face-lifts. Also nearby is South Beach, where on a Saturday night on Lincoln Road, the hipsters pose, dine, and pose, where gay and straight couples hold hands, shop and just hang out.

Wilton Manors has a gay mayor, a gay police force, a gay this, a gay that, and the staff in the restaurants are all light in the loafers. I recommend breakfast at the Courtyard café. The place is full of bears, so just walking in I felt 50lb lighter. The best diet in the world is to dump your skinny friends and hang out with the heavy guys. One store I liked was Out of the Closet—The World's Most Fabulous Thrift Store, which came through on both counts. For a measly $2 I bought the CD "Trouble Is A Man" by lesbian singer Judy Holliday, and a bizarre tie, so strange only I could wear it. It's like they saw me coming. "Isn't that St. Sukie? Get out that stupid tie we can't sell. He'll buy it."

However, the jewel in the crown of my sojourn, was my visit to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 33304. A week earlier I contacted Keith Cromley, the office manager, asking if he could give me a tour. We arranged a date and time. Cromley is a darling, a sweet affable man, engaging and knowledgeable about the Stonewall collection. As we toured the museum and archives, I was impressed by the rare books collection, the touring exhibitions, the extensive list of pulp fiction with titles like "Homos Don't Cry," and the Gay Lib buttons.

Within the walls of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives lies a rich seam of gay history, currently 5,000 items, including film, audio and oral histories, and organizational records of local, national and regional LGBT groups. Is that Carson "Queer Eye" Kressley's pink jacket? And in these sliding drawers with controlled temperature are some of Frank Kameny's protest banners.

In a booklet I picked up at the front desk, it reads: "Recent acquisitions include: from 1876, one of 100 leather-bound copies of Walt Whitman's "Two Rivulets," personalized by the author to his best friend Trowbridge, with changes made in his own hand to three typed sentences in the book; and from Jan. 21, 1888, a Susan B. Anthony handwritten four-page letter on Women's Suffrage stationery to Parker Pillsbury, a minister and advocate for abolition and women's rights, inviting him and his family to a very special gathering of other pioneering leaders of women's liberation."

The Stonewall National Museum & Archives was founded in 1973 when Mark Silber, a 19-year-old student at Florida Atlantic University, started a collection of gay books and memorabilia. And now, the Stonewall is one of the most important historic and cultural institutions in the country, used by community leaders, writers, scholars, researchers and historians, as well as the general public. The museum celebrates writers with a Distinguished Author Series, there's also a movie series showing four films a month, a Writer's Workshop, an Opera group for Maria Callas fans, and another for Book Discussion. Most impressive of all is how open, light and airy the rooms are, conducive to learning and study. It's my kind of feng shui.

The openness extends beyond fixtures and fittings, because in the aforementioned booklet is a full list of the board of directors, and also the board of advisors. On the back page is a complete rundown of the finances, with pie charts.

Unrestricted and restricted Net Assets … Contributions … Grant Income … Special Events/Fundraising … Gift Shop Sales … Expenses … Programs/Education … Program Services/Materials … etc.

The Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale is an organization run by the LBGT community, for the LGBT community. The board of directors is elected legally, the finances are public and above board, the volunteers are friendly, the museum and archives are clean and tidy, and this writer appreciated the warm welcome.

This article shared 7663 times since Sun Mar 17, 2013
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