One of the things that makes South Florida special is the diverse Hispanic population that calls the area home. While the Latino population hale from all across the globe, the Cuban community is most often associated with Miami and the cultural hub of the county is Calle Ocho or SW 8th Street, the heartbeat of Little Havana.

Last year, Damian Pardo and a group of his friends decided that they were going to bring two of South Florida’s largest groups together right on Calle Ocho. The street already played host to the festival of the same name but Pardo and his crew knew that there was a need to represent the LGBT community in Little Havana, as well as at other places like Miami Beach, which hosts the wildly popular Miami Beach Gay Pride in the spring.

After a Herculean effort to get an LGBT festival off the ground, Gay 8 was born last January and the success blew everyone’s mind, but solidified the idea that a place like Little Havana is ready to host our community, even rolling out the red carpet, cigars, and bongos to put on a party like no other in South Florida.

The demographics and identity of Miami’s heart is in flux. Little Havana is the historical, spiritual core of the Magic City. It’s long, colorful history involves all of Miami’s prominent, ethnic communities at one point or another (African-Americans, Anglos, Cuban-Americans, Haitians, Jews, Mexicans, Nicaraguans and yes Gay Americans as well.) Presently there is a another shift taking place in the area—while there is palpable energy in the air as new, younger Miamians begin to populate the historic neighborhood, talk of gentrification, uncontrolled development, a fragile, self sustaining economy and rising crime rates concern everyone.

The LGBT community has a long track record of leading restoration and revitalization efforts in several of Miami’s historic communities i.e. Coconut Grove, South Beach, Wynwood, and Midtown. In the aforementioned areas, the gay community has been instrumental in balancing historic preservation with economic development, celebrating diversity while maintaining professional and civic standards that attract tourism and investment. Gay women and men in Miami have been pivotal in redefining the city’s most significant urban enclaves—Little Havana will be no different.

Whether you are a long time resident of South Florida who hasn’t had much of a reason to check out Little Havana in some time or an out of town snowbird or intrigued foreign traveler that pops into Miami Dade County to check out Gay8, the event strives to build a lasting bridge that will bring all of the city’s communities together in celebration and forge a union that will unite us all as proud Miamians for generations to come.

The Pa’Lante awards will take place on Friday, January 13 at 7pm at CubaOcho (1465 SW 8th Street) and will honor Cecilia Gutierrez- Abety, Executive Director of Miami Children’s Initiative, Denise Brown, Founder and President of RJT Foundation, Desmond Child, a musician, songwriter and producer, and Steve Adkins, President of the Miami Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the Pa’Lante Awards visit Gay8Festival.com.

The Gay8 Festival will take place on Sunday, January 15 from 11am till 10pm on Calle Ocho between 14th and 17th avenues.