LGBTQ festival in Little Havana to honor families of kids lost to gun violence

A year ago, about 17,000 revelers took to Calle Ocho for the first Gay8 festival, a free Little Havana street fair seeking to bring together South Florida’s diverse LGBTQ communities and their straight allies.

Six months later at Orlando’s gay Pulse Nightclub, 49 people were slain and 53 wounded in the nation’s worst mass shooting. And throughout 2016, young people across South Florida became victims of deadly gun violence.

While planning this year’s Gay8 festival — 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday at Southwest Eighth Street and 17th Avenue — founders Damian Pardo and filmmaker Joe Cardona (“The Day It Snowed in Miami”) sought to keep the street fair fun and still address the serious safety issues confounding us all.

“Both Joe and I are sick to our stomachs that every day someone is killed by gun violence,” said Pardo, a senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “This is sickening to the point people have become immune to this. When Pulse happened, everyone thought the LGBT community was going to get behind the gun violence issue, but as time went on we noticed nothing really happened and everything went back to being the same.

“We couldn’t understand why our community felt so powerless in the face of this,” he said. “It’s a horrible thing. It’s a cancer in our community. So this year we said we were going to look into this problem.”

The Gay8 committee partnered with the Miami Gardens-based RJT Foundation, founded by Denise Brown after she lost her son, Roman Bradley, and his friend, JaQuevin Myles, five years ago to gun violence. Their murders are still unsolved.

Gay8 co-founders Damian Pardo and Joe Cardona at the 2016 Pa’Lante Awards at Ball & Chain in Miami’s Little Havana.

Brown’s foundation brings together families who’ve lost children to violent crimes and gun violence. Gay8 will donate 10 percent of this year’s gross profits to RJT, Pardo said.

At Friday night’s Gay8 Pa’Lante Awards, the festival committee will honor Brown, along with three other community leaders: Cecilia Gutierrez, executive director of MiamiChildren’s Initiative; musician, songwriter and producer Desmond Child; and Steve Adkins, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m really excited the LGBT community opened its arms and welcomed us to be part of the festival,” Brown said. “I totally agree that this is not a black, white or LGBT issue — this is something that the entire community should be concerned about. It is everyone’s problem because no one is exempt from violence. This can occur anytime, any place.”

Pardo said Brown’s fight for justice reminds him of when he lost many friends to AIDS in the 1980s and ’90s, and there was little support in the mainstream community to help people with HIV.

Denise Brown founded RJT Foundation after losing her son, Roman Bradley, and his friend five years ago to gun violence.

“When I saw these mothers, they reminded me of myself in that fight,” Pardo said. “These mothers have lost their kids. Imagine the pain a mother must have losing a child. So here are these women that I as a gay man could identify with because of the sense of loss. I could feel that in them.”

“They do everything they do on a shoestring budget, all in honoring their children and to help families affected by gun violence,” Pardo said. “It’s a homegrown grassroots foundation with people authentically trying to make other people’s lives better with their tragic loss and I thought this was perfect and we should honor them and the work they are doing.”

If you go

▪ What: Gay8 Festival

▪ Where: Calle Ocho (Miami’s Southwest Eighth Street) from 14th to 17th avenues.

▪ When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15.

▪ Cost: Free and open to the public.

Gay8 Festival will present its Pa’Lante Awards 7 p.m. Friday at Cubaocho, 1465 SW Eighth St. VIP passes are $100 and provide access to the awards reception and 10 drink tickets at Sunday’s festival.