Green Gay Warriors: A winning day for the beach and its residents

Newspaper: Express: Local News
Title: Green Gay Warriors: A winning day for the beach and its residents
Author/Reporter: Jade Wollman
Date: June 12, 2008

Saturday, June 12, the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach (ECOMB) is hosting “The Big Sweep, ” a beach clean-up competition designed to reduce litter along Miami-Dade’s garbage-laden beaches. From 8am-2pm, volunteers will target the section between South Pointe and 14th Street Beach, collecting the rubbish strewn along South Beach’s most heavily populated strip.

Volunteers will compete as teams, and for every bag of trash collected Big Sweep team members will receive a raffle ticket to win “You’re Awesome” prizes, including yoga lessons from Atomic Yoga or Surf Lessons from South Beach Dive Shop.  Trophies will also be awarded to teams with the largest number of volunteers, largest amount of cigarette butts (a particular beach nuisance, as they do not bio-degrade), and largest amount of general trash.

Though the not-for-profit corporation seeks support from all residents of south Florida, two of the event’s openly-gay leaders have their eyes fixed on the LGBT community in particular. Michael Gongora, a former Miami- Dade commissioner and new ECOMB Chairperson, is known for creating Miami’s first ever “Green Committee” and tenaciously fighting beach crew cutbacks while in office just one year ago.  He hopes the gay community will support the clean-up of the beach, including the 12th Street area, which is one of the few “gay beaches” in south Florida.

“The LGBT community is on the forefront of social issues,” asserts Gongora. “Though environmentalism isn’t necessarily a social issue, our community has always been a leader. Where we go, they go. We [now] want to be on the forefront of environmentalism.”

Like Gongora, ECOMB’s Executive Director Luiz Rodriques has similar hopes of mobilizing the LGBT community through The Big Sweep. “I want the gay community to be present at this event,” declares a zealous Rodriques, aptly dubbed the “Eco-Educator.” “I want to get them more proactive.”

Having spent his young adult life in politically, socially, and environmentally charged regions like Santa Cruz and Berkeley, Rodrigues has witnessed how a proactive LGBT environmental community can precipitate local change.  “Most of my gay friends were strong environmentalists. They were into recycling, bicycling, growing organic gardens. Living there had a significant impact on me.”

Rodriques and Gongora hope to foster greater LGBT activism here in South Florida through the Beach Clean-Up event. The self-proclaimed “green gay warriors” have already reached out to Halo, one of South Beaches’ hottest boutique lounges, and hope to acquire an avid volunteer staff from Twist and Score as well. “The challenges here are greater and therefore we must work with people to raise awareness and reduce our carbon footprint,” says Rodrigues.

According to Miami-Dade County’s Operations and Management statistics, the county cleaned up approximately 35,000 cubic yards of trash from the county’s beaches in 2007.  This includes the notorious South Beach strip, where revelers come to party.  Alberto Zamora, director of the Sanitation Division for the city of Miami Beach, explains how even the small piece of beach his division manages accumulates an inordinate amount of trash annually—and the city does not even manage the actual sand “beach” adjacent to the water, where visitors sunbathe. “The city only manages the area of the beach west of the dune to the coral rock wall,” he explained. “We pick up 30-40 tons of litter per year—and its mostly people just walking through, or homeless people taking in the sun.”

The majority of trash left by visitors is dropped east of the dunes, along the flat sandbar.  Because that’s where visitors stop to sunbathe, that’s where the majority of the garbage is accumulated; because it’s not under city control, specific data is not available, but the amount is certainly larger than 30-40 tons.

“There is just so much trash in South Beach,” explains a vehement Rodriques. “It is filthy with cigarettes, plastic straws, bags, plastic bottles. You should’ve seen the beach between 1st and 2nd street yesterday. I’ll put it like this: in 2 square feet, I could already count 12 bottles.”

Events like ECOMB’s “The Big Sweep” are intended to raise awareness about the city’s ecosystems, and keep litter proliferation at bay. With support from the city of Miami Beach, as well as sponsors like the Surfrider Foundation and the Boucher Brothers, the event is intended to be a fun, rewarding way to spend a Saturday morning.

Teams should register online 2 days prior to the event, and must also sign a release form, available on the ECOMB web site.