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Miami Beach aims to be new Mecca for gays

Move over, San Francisco. Miami Beach has its sights set on the title of Gay Capital of the US, if not the world. The City of Miami Beach, a Greater Miami municipality, is wining, dining and nightclubbing writers from gay publications in Britain and the rest of Europe in the hope of wooing their readers to the new gay Mecca.

After last year's drastic decline in European tourism, following a series of tourist murders in 1993, the idea of a gay press freebie is one of a series of efforts to bring Eurotourists back.

"This is a place where gay people can come and feel at ease," said Michael Aller, Miami Beach tourism co-ordinator. "We're gay-friendly. The gay community has an important presence here. We're very happy with them. South Beach (the bar and club-dotted Art Deco district) has become a premium destination for gay and lesbian people from around the world."

Taking part in a "gay pub- crawl" last night, after cocktails with the Miami Beach mayor, were writers from Pink Paper, Boyz, Attitudes and The Gay Times.

Filming them were a television crew from the Planet 24 production company, which plans to broadcast a gay-oriented series on the BBC from next month.

The Miami move reflects a general targeting of the growing and lucrative gay and lesbian market throughout the US, with such companies as American Express and Chevrolet focusing some of their advertising on the gay "niche''.

Not all residents, who include elderly "snowbirds" from the north who winter in the city, are enamoured of the influx, however. "You can't visit South Beach at night without seeing men cuddling and women kissing," said one octogenarian Canadian woman.

The gay-oriented Out magazine recently ran a controversial article entitled "To live and die in South Beach", saying the city had become a major destination for a new type of retiree - HIV-positive men bent on living it up while waiting to die.

"The sense of abandon [in South Beach] has never been greater, nor the tendency toward unprotected sex," the article said.

Local gays argued that was a gross exaggeration, while acknowledging that some of the gay community appear to live for the day. Free condoms are routinely distributed outside many gay-frequented clubs.