Jesse Fraga / Assistant News Director
Machismo, police and gendered double standards may be threatening Miami’s nightlife for queer people. Felipe Wallis, 23, recently fell victim when he faced discrimination at a local nightclub.
As a regular at Centro Wynwood nightclub, Wallis wore a sleeveless knitted collared shirt, heels, gold hoops, black leather pants and a hand purse during a night out on Saturday, May 22.
He was ready to perrear with his friends, until the bouncers allegedly denied him to step foot inside, for what he believed was driven by discrimination.
“They come and tell me… I’m not up to their standards,” said Wallis in an Instagram video explaining the incident. “So you mean to tell me that I can’t come in… where I’m actually dressed up, but a girl can come in showing half of their titties.”
Centro nightclub is known to bring “the best nightlife experience in South Florida,” according to their website. The upbeat hotspot blends reggaeton and hip hop vibes, featuring local DJ’s Thursdays through Sundays.
The club’s event site Discotech notes the attire is “casual,” which is not explicitly detailed online.
“This was for sure driven by homophobia, or a gendered microaggression,” Wallis told PantherNOW.
Florida’s hate crime act protects those discriminated against due to sexual orientation, but does not protect gender identity or expression, according to state statutes. This also applies to Miami-Dade County’s hate crime protections.
Orlando Gonzales, executive director of Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE), an LGBTQ+ South Florida nonprofit, hopes to expand protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
“The laws don’t change the climate, they just protect us,” said Gonzales. “Hopefully those kinds of protections will signal to them that their actions will have consequences… in terms of their ability to be employed.”
Within a week, Wallis’ Instagram post flooded with over 200 comments of condolences, support and backlash. However, many shared their own incidents as victims of homophobia, and sexist microaggressions.
“Wynwood has gone to shit from what it used to be,” said Wallis in the video. “The level of discrimination, humiliation, unkindness and unprofessionalism by these people is absolutely absurd.”
A Rey, 23, a queer Cuban and FIU graduate student studying history and philosophy, says these events are nothing new.
“When you see me with a makeup mustache, I do go out and dress up in ways that are a little bit more subversive like as a joke, prank or gender bender,” said Rey. “You just have to be very high precaution for a visibly queer person to be walking around Wynwood at night.”
Rey has felt this fear while driving downtown as a host for Pedal Pub, a party bike company in Wynwood. She explained she often feels targeted, as a queer person assigned female at birth.
“On Ladies Night, women are encouraged to go home and drink. So I rush through the streets… and hang out in a group,” said Rey. “[Wynwood] is just a hectic place where the rules are suspended all the time.”
In Wallis’ case, he claimed police ignored the situation.
“The police just stood there and did nothing,” Wallis told PantherNOW. “Even teenagers were let inside after paying the bouncers.”
Krystal Luciano, 26, an FIU senior studying english, expressed concern about the situation.
“I think the incident had to do with a comfortableness that these masculine bouncers get from knowing the police would back them up, knowing that [the customers] are LGBTQ+ people,” said Luciano.
“Such a ‘knowledge gap’ between the accounts of victims and the law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting them is problematic,” was reported in the study.
Luciano used to spend Ladies Nights at Centro. The club serves free drinks and free entry for women every Thursday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
The queer Miami native recalled the last time they attended the club in 2019. Luciano said they were denied access, and blamed for their attire.
“I was wearing these baggy black army pants, a sleeveless shirt and boots… but I was wearing ‘hip-hop attire,’ to quote the bouncer,” said Luciano. “Other girls go with spaghetti straps out, sleeveless dresses and bikini tops, and they’re let in.”
For Luciano, Ladies Night seemed hypocritical and deceiving.
“It’s not that I’m showing less skin, it’s that I’m wearing pants instead of a skirt,” said Luciano. “It’s something that’s so fetishized in Miami during the day, and then at night you have to be this hypersexualized version of yourself if you’re feminine presenting.”
Luciano referenced Wallis’ video, pointing out that they no longer felt safe at Centro.
“We need to create spaces where they encourage everybody, they accept everybody and everybody is welcome,” said Wallis in the post.
While he does not plan to take legal action, he hopes others will learn from his experience.
“My point of this video was not to shit on Centro. I’m not a fan of cancel culture,” Wallis told PantherNOW. “I just hoped the video would maybe change the [attire] policies, or even bring awareness to how to treat queer people.”
When the club’s co-owner Jose Estrada saw the video with over 21,000 views, he apologized to Wallis through a direct message on Instagram.
“I totally agree that you shouldn’t have left like that,” Estrada told Wallis. “Even though we do have a dress code, I took it into my hands to sit down with my staff and give them a better coaching on how to treat the LGBT community.”
Screenshots of an exchange between Felipe Wallis and Jose Estrada, co-owner of Centro Wynwood. Screenshots contributed by Felipe Wallis.
However, Estrada explained he was unsure of how to address the situation.
“What would you say the right way to train staff on gender attire is?” Estrada told PantherNOW. “It’s a tricky situation.”
He did not provide PantherNOW with any other statements.
FIU’s Pride Center offers LGBTQ+ education training for faculty, staff and students which examines “identities, genders, orientations, prejudice, assumptions and privilege,” according to the site. Local organizations including YES Institute, SunServe and TransSocial also provide similar trainings.
Wallis, a Colombian immigrant, felt the apology was ineffective.
“When action isn’t taken, people need to know what Wynwood, or this club, might be turning into,” Wallis told PantherNOW. “This is not what I expected, moving from Colombia to the U.S.”
Attacks toward transgender, gender-nonconforming and queer individuals have hit record highs this year, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, an organization met to promote equality in civil rights issues.
A record number of 17 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been enacted in state legislatures across the country while under the Biden Administration.
These attacks prove deadly for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, as 31 trans people have been killed in the United States so far this year.
Miami’s hispanic community, in particular, feels the pressures of conformity.
A study by FIU psychology professors Dionne P. Stephens and Asia A. Eaton focuses on the influence of masculinity in Miami’s hispanic population, which currently makes up 71.51 percent of Miami-Dade County, according to Miami Matters, a nonprofit organization by the Health Council of South Florida.
The research suggests hispanic LGBTQ+ people are at greater risk of victimization due to hypermasculinity and traditional gender role expectations often embraced.
Luciano, a Cuban Puerto-Rican, wondered what can be done to protect Miami’s queer community.
“Why are we so behind in a city that’s so popular and forward-thinking?” said Luciano.
Gonzales blames this partially on anti-LGBTQ+ actions by the Trump Administration.
“The last administration in the White House emboldened people who were anti-LGBT, homophobic, transphobic and racist, to no longer withhold their behavior from being harmful to others,” said Gonzales.
Wallis described a similar atmosphere during his experience at Centro.
“This definitely makes me rethink which places I know I’ll be accepted at,” Wallis told PantherNOW.