Backlash in Wake of Winter Party Attendee's COVID-19 Disclosure

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 18, 2020

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Although organizers of the 2020 edition of the Winter Party in Miami Beach provided hand sanitizer, encouraged social distancing, and went with what they knew at the time, the news of one or more attendees — asymptomatic during the week-long festival — testing positive for COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, sparked headlines — and backlash.

The annual event took place March 4 — 10 this year. Organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Winter Party raises "critical funds for the LGBTQ community," text at the Winter Party's Twitter feed notes.

As reported at EDGE earlier this week, the executive director of the Task Force, Rea Carey, reached out via social media after learning that at least one of the festival's attendees had subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

In her message, Carey said:

I am writing to let you know that on Saturday night (the 14th), I was informed that one of our Winter Party Festival (WPF) guests has tested positive for COVID-19 this last week. We are grateful to them for alerting us, particularly given that they were not experiencing symptoms during WPF. While we know there are many places people could have been exposed before and after Winter Party as this virus has developed, we wanted to make sure you have this information as soon as possible. The health and safety of anyone who participates in any Task Force event is of great importance to us.

Carey went on to add:

Information and circumstances have changed rapidly since WPF. We continue to encourage all WPF guests to monitor their health, practice social distancing, wash hands with soap, use hand sanitizer and contact their doctor if they think they are exhibiting symptoms. If you test positive for COVID-19, please contact those you were in direct contact with so they can take steps to monitor their health and speak with their doctors. More information from the CDC can be found here:

Carey reminded readers that the Task Force, "working with local Miami Beach officials,... took steps to ensure the safety of attendees. The educational posters throughout WPF venues and 10,000 hand sanitizers we distributed over the weekend were both appreciated and utilized by attendees."

Wrote one individual: "The Winter Party Festival Organizers should be held liable for the illnesses & deaths linked to this unnecessary mass gathering during a pandemic."

Some who left responses to the statement's posting at Twitter gave vent to accusations and acrimony. Wrote an individual: "The Winter Party Festival Organizers should be held liable for the illnesses & deaths linked to this unnecessary mass gathering during a pandemic."

The posted comment added: "May history & the criminal justice system hold u accountable."

Another chimed in with: "You have blood on your hands. There's no way around this reality. Thanks for owning up to it, but shame on all of you irregardless."

One person seemed ready to hold the Winter Party's organizers accountable for any and all subsequent cases of the coronavirus in the entire United States. Posited the commentator, "Even if the US media wasn't on it you threw a global event while a crisis was apparent in Europe. You are now responsible for what we see on tv in the next few weeks."

Another commentator lashed out with: "You were so greedy and desperate for guys to be around dick knowing this virus is killing people. Who the fuck do you think you are to go against doctors. You are responsible for this 100% how small of you."

Covering the story, the Miami Herald noted that among the festival's other outreach efforts to advise attendees on how to safeguard against the virus was a flier that told participants:

Don't go back to the dance floor all nasty. Who wants to ruin their vibe by getting sick. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities (don't make us list them here), is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others.

Though it is believed that COVID-19 is not easily communicable through the air, the virus can persist for hours or even days on surfaces. The virus can be picked up on hands and transported to the face, where the eyes, mouth, and nasal passages could allow the virus ingress to a person's body. For that reason, frequent hand washing is highly advised, and social distancing techniques such as avoiding handshakes have been promoted.

But as with any infectious disease that can be communicated through casual contact, COVID-19 is easier to pass along in crowded conditions. That fact, as well as the fact that people who have become infected can become infectious long before they exhibit symptoms, has prompted local — and, in Europe, national — governments to advise, or even mandate, measures intended to minimize risk.

In the United States, municipalities from Boston to Seattle have required that public spaces such as restaurants limit their services to take-out food, while cinemas and theaters have gone dark and sports events that normally take place in crowded arenas have either been canceled or taken place in empty venues.

In some instances, the LGBTQ community has demonstrated a willingness to turn out in force despite the pandemic. Though one state — Ohio — postponed scheduled primaries for this year's presidential election earlier this week, primaries on other states have proceeded as scheduled — and non-heterosexual voters have broken records in order to show up and weigh in, according to the Human Rights Campaign. An HRC statement took note of how LGBTQ voters in Arizona and Illinois comprised a projected 10% of those who cast their votes, while in Florida the number was 8%.

Another, quite different, annual large gathering also made headlines recently when it turned out that at least one attendee had been infected with COVID-19: C-PAC, the yearly conference of conservatives. In that case, several lawmakers reportedly came into contact with an infectious individual. One of those lawmakers was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who drew criticism for wearing a gas mask during a March 4 floor vote on funding for measures to counter the epidemic, which was in a much earlier stage in the United States at the time. Less than a week after that vote, on March 9, Gaetz disclosed that he was self-quarantining after contact with the unnamed individual at C-PAC.

President Trump also drew criticism for his seeming initial hesitance to address the virus as a major health threat. After dismissing concerns as a "hoax" from Democrats determined to discredit him, Trump eventually began to treat the pandemic as a genuine crisis.

As the pandemic has grown and worsened globally, jarring the stock market and prompting border closures and restrictions on international travel, local and state leaders have stepped up their efforts to minimize the spread of the virus and blunt its consequences to public health.

In Miami Beach, city officials are among those now calling for measures to minimize the spread of the virus. Local Miami Beach NBC affiliate Channel 6 quoted Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber as saying, "We can't have the kinds of crowds we've had, the kinds of gatherings."

Added Gelber: "I walked down Ocean Drive yesterday and what I saw was incredibly disturbing, it wasn't just the typical large gatherings of people, but it was young people who believe they're invincible and probably don't really think of this in any way as a health crisis."

Meantime, the National LGBTQ Task Force has turned its attention to broader health concerns, promoting LGBT Health Awareness Week, which is slated to take place March 28 — April 1. Text at the Task Force website notes:

LGBT Health Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the devastating cycle of discrimination and health disparities that affects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Because LGBT people are regularly discriminated against in employment, relationship recognition and insurance coverage, they are more likely to get sick and less likely to be able to afford vital health care than their straight and non-transgender neighbors.

LGBT people and their families also experience high rates of anti-LGBT violence, the stress of coping with discrimination and a widespread lack of LGBT cultural competency in the health care system.

A request for comment from the Task Force was not answered by the time this article was posted. Winter Party 2021 is already slated for March of next year.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

COVID-19 And You

This story is part of our special report titled COVID-19 And You. Want to read more? Here's the full list.