Pride Points: LGBTQ+ History in The Palm Beaches

October 18, 2021

In celebration of LGBT History Month in October, explore some of the community’s influential moments and places.

Summertime Pride festivities are well-known throughout the country, but LGBT History Month in October is an occasion to highlight the history and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. Created in 1994 by Missouri high-school teacher Rodney Wilson, the month coincides with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, and the anniversary of the first gay and lesbian rights march on Washington, D.C., in 1979.

Here’s a look at some of the influential places and events related to LGBTQ+ history in The Palm Beaches.

Compass LGBTQ Community Center, Lake Worth Beach 

With roots going back more than three decades, this organization has been a longstanding source of leadership and support, and is one of the largest LGBTQ+ community centers in the country. In addition to providing social services and enrichment programs, Compass hosts the annual Palm Beach Pride, which includes the oldest running Pride parade in Florida.

It also established the Stonewall Black and White Ball, an annual outreach and fundraising event in West Palm Beach that celebrates LGBTQ+ history and highlights opportunities for social justice leadership.

Each year, Compass also partners with Palm Beach Dramaworks on the Legacy Project. This effort pairs LGBTQ+ youth with trailblazers of the community for interviews about their personal histories, which are compiled into digital stories.

Crowd at Palm Beach Pride
Photo credit: Compass Community Center

The Gay Polo League, Wellington 

The first and only LGBTQ+ polo league in the world, this organization is an athletics staple in The Palm Beaches. Chip McKenney founded the league in 2006 as a way to provide inclusion for gay athletes. It’s even gone international, with members in more than a dozen countries. In the spring, the GPL hosts the International Gay Polo Tournament at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. The event combines serious competition with social events and tailgates, making for a spirited weekend.

Polo players riding horses
Photo credit: Scott Fisher

H.G. Roosters, West Palm Beach 

As of April 2021, the oldest gay bar in Florida is listed on West Palm Beach’s Register of Historic Places. It’s only the third LGBTQ+ venue in the U.S. to be designated a historic site, joining the ranks of New York City’s Stonewall Inn and the Atlanta Eagle in Atlanta. Its run as Roosters dates back to 1984, but it was known as Turf West in the 1960s. Through the years the iconic bar has been a gathering spot and led charitable efforts for AIDS organizations. Unfortunately, the Rooster suffered a fire in May 2020, and remains closed, but a rebuilding effort is underway.
 

Historic Events 

The Palm Beaches have seen a number of important moments in local LGBTQ+ history led by pioneers of progress. Here’s a timeline of some of the highlights. 
  • 1981: Tom Sisco hosts the first service of the LGBT-inclusive Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches at his home in West Palm Beach. 
     
  • 1990: Local gay rights activist Norm Aaron becomes the first of many openly LGBTQ+ public officials to serve in Palm Beach County, when he’s appointed to serve on the Fair Housing Board. 
     
  • 1992: The county’s first PrideFest is held at the Armory Art Center. 
     
  • 1992: Rand Hoch, founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), is appointed by the governor to serve as the first openly gay judge in Florida. 
     
  • 1995: Denise Bleau, an open lesbian, is elected to the Lantana Town Council. 
     
  • 1996: By then the president of the PBCHRC, Norm Aaron becomes the oldest openly gay American to carry the Olympic torch. 
     
  • 2003: Voices of Pride, the Gay Men’s Chorus of The Palm Beaches, is founded. 
     
  • 2005: Compass establishes the Pride Business Alliance to provide a safe directory of gay-friendly businesses and resources. 
     
  • 2006: Betty James, an open lesbian, is appointed mayor of Cloud Lake — and later elected to the position in 2008. 
     
  • 2008: BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together) Women of West Palm Beach is founded as a social and networking group.
     
  • 2010: Wellington hosts the world’s first international gay polo tournament. 
     
  • 2015: On Jan. 6, Mike Edmondson and Keith Musbach become the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Palm Beach County. 
     
  • 2021: In June, three permanent public LGBTQ+ art installations, in the form of Pride crosswalks, are dedicated in West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.
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